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A Preventative Maintenance Strategy For Collection Systems

Across our country many communities of all sizes are facing a dilemma that is unseen, costly and at times overwhelming – deteriorating collection systems. Crumbling infrastructures have unique characteristics that in the past been repaired with traditional methods. Unfortunately, due to our current economy, expensive methods of correction are no longer options for most municipalities. Finding new, innovative techniques that help to lower the cost when fixing collection systems is the reason FloCis Applications Corp. was first started.

Symptoms of a failing collection system may appear in the form of a higher number of customer complaints from sewer backups after a rainfall, new sightings of SSOs, or higher influent flow at the local treatment plant. Aging pipes, improper installations, along with increased customer growth contribute to the deterioration of those underground assets.

Collection systems are essential to our way of life but because these assets are hidden, it is easy to overlook the necessary steps needed to keep these valuable assets in proper working order. During these tough economic times, responsible ownership of a system prompts discussion on several major topics

  • Funding for capital improvements is a major concern. Most communities do not have the resources to undertake the huge expenses needed to correct deteriorating systems by traditional methods. Without adequate reserve funding, sanitary boards attempting preventative maintenance are being forced to find cost-saving alternatives. With scarce federal grants, municipalities have no choice but to take on long-term debt financing.
  • Federal and state environmental regulations cannot be ignored. FloCis Applications has worked with compliance regulators in the past and knows the challenges of meeting unfunded mandates.
  • Symptoms that alert a community that a problem exists are usually not where the source of that problem is. Finding that problem source and recommending repairing only that area is how FloCis Applications saves both time and money.
 

Where should one begin fixing these problems in our collection system? This is the question being asked by private owners and municipalities across the country. With so many communities dealing with this problem of failing collection systems, FloCis has developed a 4-Step Process methodology: Preparation, Deployment, Analysis and Decision. Each step considers measures that need to be implemented to isolate conveyance problems and deterioration.

Preparation

Working with basic tools is usually a good starting point with any project. Basics, in this case, are having current sanitary and storm system maps. In order to understand how your collection system operates, one must know the details such as asset type, location and condition. Though original maps may exist, updates may be necessary to make the maps complete. Evaluation of a system must begin with accurate maps; employee memory or guesswork will not produce the results needed to understand the location and behavior of aging and hidden conveyance infrastructure.

Knowing what to do with new collections of field data is crucial to becoming organized. The data collected will cover an array of specific topics about each asset; therefore having an interactive database will enable a more thorough analysis of an entire collection system. It is essential that the information system be a tool that is both flexible and accurate. As each asset is assigned a unique identification number upon data entry, the links to that asset will then reference field observations, overflows, repair activities or customer complaints.

Training personnel to see a collection system as a valuable resource is a new mindset for many employees. All who come in contact with the system should be continuously collecting data as a part of their normal workday. By doing so, field staff must learn to identify and document a variety of specific conditions during both wet and dry weather. This increases the types of data that in turn builds a more complete knowledge base. Field personnel must be made aware of the importance of their observations as they become more aware of the behavior of the system.

Fixed Downstream Flow & Rain (FD & R) is a permanent installation for collecting flow and rain data on a real time basis. Having a meter at a fixed location to record flows in shorter-timed intervals produces the historical patterns of sanitary flow in response to wet weather and its effects on the system from that fixed vantage point. (FloCis recommends at least one permanent site.) Later, analysis of these dated records from specific locations within system will help to compare normal flows against wet weather flows. The data can then be used to gauge the efficacy of future remedial rehabilitation efforts.

Deployment

Once trained, or prepared to do so, the inspection of assets is another form of familiarity with a collection system. Manholes, pipes and lift stations are the vital components of any system and must be assessed to ensure their efficiency, and condition. Traditional flow meters are able to identify regional areas of water intrusion into the system, but asset inspection offer clues to where the entry points exist. Having data from various sources gives decision-makers a more complete view of the entire system and its behavior.

Manholes are the windows into a collection system and since they are the access point for collection pipes, they are ideal for gathering flow characteristics. Documenting the design, construction material, debris, and deterioration will detail the physical condition of the assets.

Pipes give important insight into the condition of a collection system. It is crucial that the database be updated with the layout, construction details, repair history and conveyance requirements of the entire system. These details along with flow direction will help with the evaluations to be made at a later date.

Lift stations equipped with proper instrumentation are able to provide data that reflects the flow rates during wet weather as well as the conditions of the flow; debris or grease may be indicators of upstream source concerns.

Strategic placement of meters to characterize the flow of collection systems during wet weather is an effective measurement tool, giving a more accurate view of how a system behaves during inclement weather. Meters collecting data for many months provide the information needed to assccess what may or not be the typical flow patterns of individual portions of a collection system.

While the amount of gathered information may appear to be massive, it gives awareness into "what is not already known" within the system. While the beginning process may appear time-consuming, future assessments will be made quicker as the preventative maintenance program matures.

Analyze

What should be done with all the data that has been collected? The analysis process starts with organizing and giving value to the data that has been continuously collected. Designing a database that is populated with asset details and activities makes the gathering, sorting and evaluation of this information less complicated and reduces guesswork. Historical facts for all assets, such as SSOs, past repair work, and customer complaints assist in the plotting of problem areas that can then be targeted for further study.

Each collection system will react in a unique manner and being knowledgeable of those types of behavior allows for the collected observations to be linked together appropriately. As with any challenging scenario, the ability to piece the clues together solves the mystery. Clues in this case, come in the form of solid field observations recorded and analyzed from a database. FloCis Applications specializes in this type of analysis; drawing conclusions from data collected in the field to produce conclusions that can be used in decision making.

While the size of a collection system will vary from one community to another, finding a starting point to begin rehabilitation or proactive repairs is common ground for most municipalities. With limited financial resources as compared to replacing the system, most communities must be careful as to the allocation of those funds that are available to them. Confidence in the source of data produced during the Deployment phase offers the benefit of timely, efficient decisions and gives collection systems the upkeep needed to continue serving at a productive level.

Decision

Asset sustainability, a concept of lengthening the useful life of a collection system, is the objective of the 4-Step Process methodology. This includes restoring flow capacity, addressing deterioration, and reducing inflow and infiltration. Having identified, recorded and evaluated the system's assets, Decision makers must choose where to best allocate resources using the form of either rehabilitation or preventative maintenance. While costs may appear substantial, when compared to reactive repairs, or catastrophic failure, preemptive investments are significantly less expensive.

For any collection system owner, this may be the time to review the steps taken toward asset accountability and to make additional revisions if needed. During the last rehabilitation effort, were steps taken during the preparation, deployment and analysis stages thorough enough to prove or disprove assumptions made? Questioning the validity of the maps on hand, the disciplined commitment to data gathering and analytical assumptions to determine the behavior of the collection system are only a portion of the points to be critiqued. (Where are we going here?)

With limited resources available to municipalities and private owners, proceeding with maintenance repairs of any measure can be difficult. Having as many options to collaborate the decision-making process enables communities to achieve a higher level of asset sustainability as well as fiscal responsibility.