Water Research Foundation and WERF Project Synopsis
Asset management (AM) can help utilities make sound planning decisions, meet customer and regulatory expectations, and manage capital intensive inventory. Many have predicted large capital expenditures to maintain the U.S. water infrastructure. The U.S. General Accounting Office has recommended AM as a planning tool for maintaining U.S. water and wastewater infrastructure (Water Infrastructure: Comprehensive Asset Management Has Potential to Help Utilities Better Identify Needs and Plan Future Investments, GAO-04-461, March 2004). The federal government has not mandated AM but has increased regulations on private and public utility accounting practices with GASB 34, which requires many utilities to begin reporting current values for their infrastructure in their annual financial reports. AM promises to be particularly beneficial to smaller utilities because they will be especially affected by poor scores from credit rating agencies (Wall Street Bond Rating Agency Perspectives on Capital Program Best Practices, 2003 Joint Management Conference, AWWA, February 2003).
There has been much AM-related research and product development in recent years, yet many U.S. water utilities do not see a clear path for embarking on an AM program or recognize the potential benefits of AM. Some utilities believe that they need to gather more information before they can effectively implement an AM program (WRF report 90821, 2001). Others have voiced the need for AM practices and tools tailored to the drinking water industry (Advanced Asset Management Collaborative Workshop, May 2005, EPA’s Office of Wastewater Management). Starting an AM program is a daunting task, and AM programs require time and effort to update and maintain as new data and knowledge become available. However, the benefits of implementing AM programs at water utilities have been demonstrated. Case studies of Australian utilities have shown quick return on investment from AM programs through reduced O&M costs (WRF report 90821, 2001). With time, these AM programs became more robust with information additions and yielded increased cost savings.
BACKGROUND TO SIMPLE
WERF’s Sustainable Infrastructure Management Program Learning Environment (SIMPLE)
SIMPLE, a knowledge base on strategic asset management in web format, was created for WERF Project 03-CTS-14 by GHD firm and reviewed by a WERF Project Steering Committee. WERF holds the copyright to SIMPLE and a license to the program content for its subscribers. The content is tailored to the U.S. wastewater industry yet is mostly based on international asset management experience from countries like Australia and New Zealand. WERF provides SIMPLE at no cost to their subscribers, and may make it available for a fee to non-subscribers. SIMPLE is being integrated into the EPA training programs on AM.
SIMPLE was designed specifically for the wastewater industry, and incorporates wastewater specific tools, graphics, guidelines, templates, asset management plans, interactive training aids, glossary of terms, web links and general wastewater references. SIMPLE breaks asset management into seven concepts; asset inventory, data standards, level of service, risk/failure analyses, capital improvement plans, life cycle costs, and maintenance programs. SIMPLE includes “Forums and Support” in that allows users to ask questions/advice about website content and creates an auto feedback email to GHD staff which will be answered within 24 hours. The objective of the “Forums” component is to facilitate interaction between utility staff across the country that will encourage a sharing of knowledge and experiences to avoid re inventing the wheel.
WERF’s Board of Directors supported additional SIMPLE development and maintenance as part of their research program, after successful beta tests of SIMPLE by 16 WERF/NACWA subscribers (13 wastewater utilities plus 3 corporate firms), 3 Water Research Foundation subscribers (water utilities) and 2 U.K. utilities. In July 2006, WERF, released an RFP (#06-SAM-1 CO) aimed at bolstering SIMPLE with case studies, benchmarking, and enhanced decision making tools. In 2008 the enhanced version 1.1 was released which incorporated drinking water components and other upgrades to SIMPLE
WERF and WaterRF Review Process
Technical and peer review is required to ensure relevant, quality asset management knowledge is provided through the SIMPLE knowledge base. This will include a ‘SIMPLE Technical and Peer Review Committee (managed by the WERF program director in consultation with the WaterRF manager) that reviews content management, as well as being available on an ad-hoc basis to review case study material.