Home > Water

How Asset Management Can Support a Secure Water Future

How Asset Management Can Support a Secure Water Future

By John Clow, MentorAPM co-founder and COO 

The extreme weather risk to clean water infrastructure is up— way up. According to the National Centers for Environmental Information of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the number and cost of weather and climate disasters in the US have increased dramatically over the last 44 years—rising from three events in 1980 at a cost of less than $80 billion, to 28 events in 2023 at a cost of $600 billion (costs adjusted for inflation).  Whether it’s drought, flood, mudslide, wildfire, hurricane, or tornado, weather is wreaking havoc on drinking water infrastructure and posing a major threat to public health.  

To better protect our drinking water systems, utilities are increasingly investing in tools and strategies that improve resiliency by safeguarding infrastructure assets and protecting access to clean water.

The role of asset management in water security

Asset management is a coordinated set of business practices that cover the whole lifecycle of an asset, from design and acquisition through operation and maintenance to decommissioning and disposition. Utilities and their engineers of record view asset management as a cost-effective strategy for achieving exceptional control and oversight of plant and network assets so that every ounce of value is extracted from those assets before they are replaced. It includes the tactical efforts of careful monitoring and optimizing assets, and it delivers valuable benefits to resiliency, sustainability and economy. 

As funds flow to water utilities from the Inflation Reduction Act, many municipalities are investing in advanced technologies and upgrading their systems in ways that have never been possible. A smart way to protect and enhance those investments is with asset management, which helps utilities make risk-based decisions and derive maximum value from assets.

Resiliency: Getting back online more quickly after a disaster

When a utility is ravaged by destructive weather, its first mission is to maintain or reestablish service.  Not doing so can result in the major cost of delivering bottled water to communities, the immediate public health danger of residents ingesting contaminated water and the extended public health threat of not having access to water for drinking, cooking and bathing. 

Without a comprehensive understanding of all system assets, it can take days or even weeks just to assess damage. Asset management strengthens resiliency by providing a fast, accurate and updated assessment of the location, status and condition of material assets. With this data, plant operators can more quickly repair, rebuild and restore service. This also can speed up the process of requesting FEMA and other emergency public funding.

Asset management improves resiliency by keeping operators informed of the condition of associated assets in a system so that they don’t get so close to failure that capacity is affected in challenging weather events. Strategically, the information from asset management can be used to drive decisions and secure public funding. For example, with qualitative data showing that a water tower has been lost repeatedly to hurricanes in recent years, engineers can more successfully make the case that a new design is warranted. 

Sustainability: Reducing emissions by slashing construction and energy waste

Assets that are well managed offer greater reliability, longevity and energy efficiency—all of which have implications for sustainability. Because asset management can extend the life of an asset through better monitoring and maintenance, large capital projects can be deferred, avoiding all the emissions associated with manufacturing and installing new equipment and disposing of the old equipment. Most pointedly, this includes the avoidance of concrete that is often required during site construction and equipment installation. Cement is among the most carbon-intensive products on the planet, accounting for nine percent of worldwide CO2 emissions every year, and companies seeking greater sustainability are advised to minimize their use of concrete.

Asset management also helps utilities minimize emissions associated with plant operations. An asset that is not operating at peak efficiency can be an energy drain, and if that wasted energy creates an emission either directly (gas powered) or indirectly (electricity from a power plant that is powered by a fossil fuel), then the asset is generating avoidable carbon emissions. With asset management, asset performance is monitored so that drops in efficiency are identified early, allowing operators to correct problems and reestablish energy efficiency.

Economy: Expanding budgets by getting the most from the assets you have 

Asset management helps utilities identify the best time to replace equipment and avoid unnecessary capital expenses. By knowing exactly how much life is left in an asset—rather than replacing it out of fear that it will unexpectedly fail—utilities can defer replacement, thereby stretching their budgets. 

While it sounds simple, maintaining detailed and accurate information on all assets is a task that commonly eludes water treatment plants and systems. And yet it’s one of the most effective ways to save money and personnel time. Among other types of data, good asset management includes nameplate data, which is the manufacturer, purchase date, size, maintenance records, warranty remaining, and other information for every asset. This data is critical in asset decision making and helps operators and engineers leverage greater support from vendors over facility budgets and staff time.

Case studies: Water systems using asset management to improve resiliency, sustainability and economy

Australian First Nations are building resiliency to respond to cyclone damage 

To build resilience among the First Nations indigenous communities in Cape York, Australia, local councils have begun implementing asset management in community water systems, helping First Nations take advantage of digitalization that will help reduce the impact of cyclones. These communities are working with UNGANCO, an indigenous-owned engineering consulting firm. 

In 2022, UNGANCO began partnering with MentorAPM to establish a digitally supported asset management program for First Nations communities located in remote coastal regions across Far North Queensland—an area historically marked by severe flooding associated with tropical cyclones. By taking systems online, the initiative can reduce the amount of time indigenous communities can recover from natural disasters and help them better prepare for tropical cyclones.

When natural disasters destroy critical infrastructure assets, it is often hard to identify the assets that existed before the disaster, especially for smaller and more rural water systems. Information about the assets can live in many different places, including on paper and in the minds of people who run the systems. Using MentorAPM, UNGANCO is building a digital central asset register that allows the councils to quickly fill out required forms for government disaster funding and assistance and expedite getting water services back online. 

The challenges for the water systems in many First Nations communities include the lack of historical records, workforce skills gaps, lack of connectivity or reliable Wi-Fi, and financial constraints. To overcome these challenges, the asset management platform collects and preserves information, providing knowledge transfer from local operators. Asset libraries provide a knowledge base to guide local staff and close the skills gap, and the platform works on mobile devices that work offline in the field. 

MentorAPM assigns what assets and systems are most critical, which helps first responders prioritize the infrastructure assets that need to be reestablished first during disaster recovery. Pre-event, local government leaders review these assets and make preparations and checklists to ensure the community is as prepared as possible to withstand an event.

Santa Monica is using asset management to support a sustainable water supply

To achieve its mission of water self-sufficiency, the City of Santa Monica, CA, launched SWIP (Sustainable Water Infrastructure Project), a component of its One Water initiative started in 2013 to reduce its reliance on imported water. With advanced water harvesting and treatment technology, Santa Monica now captures stormwater, dry weather urban runoff and municipal wastewater to produce high-quality purified water that can replenish the City’s local aquifer. The rigorous multi-barrier treatment system includes an array of water treatment technologies including membrane bioreactors, cartridge filters, reverse osmosis and UV advanced oxidation processes to produce up to a million gallons of purified water every day. 

To oversee this advanced system and ensure that the City is maximizing ROI, Santa Monica is managing their asset management program with the MentorAPM suite. This includes a comprehensive computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) and asset performance management (APM) to optimize plant performance and extend asset availability across new and existing water and wastewater infrastructure, which stretches across a combined eight square miles. Through the platform’s mobile capabilities, the City collects and analyzes critical asset data across the entire treatment and distribution enterprise. Asset maintenance and performance management is now prioritized by risk, which maximizes efficiency, safety and reliability.

“Before MentorAPM, our asset data was fragmented and siloed between different teams and was not being used effectively,” said Sunny Wang, water resources manager at the City of Santa Monica. “We now have all the functionality needed to manage our high-profile projects and costly assets under one umbrella designed specifically for utilities seeking more sustainable operations—keeping us aligned with the basic principles of the One Water initiative.”  

For its work on water sustainability, Santa Monica was awarded the 2023 Helen Putnam Award for Excellence from The League of California Cities and was runner-up for the Global Water Awards Water Reuse Project of the Year for 2024.

Mojave Water Agency is cutting costs with criticality and risk analysis

The Mojave Water Agency (MWA) is responsible for ensuring a stable and sustainable water supply for the High Desert region in San Bernardino County, CA. Its projects cover a service area of approximately 4,900 square miles and include facilities for delivering and storing water from the State Water Project. These facilities, such as the Morongo Basin Pipeline, the Mojave River Pipeline, the Oro Grande Wash Pipeline, and the recharge basins, help meet the region’s water needs. The MWA is one of 29 contractors allowed to import water from the California Aqueduct and is now entitled to almost 90,000 acre-feet of water annually, ensuring the region can recharge groundwater supplies as needed. 

Amid a decrease in water supply and reliability, the MWA, like many water agencies, has seen a rise in costs and operational challenges related to regional expansion, increased regulatory requirements and climate change. Complicating these challenges is aging infrastructure that poses financial and service-related risks. Having long relied on spreadsheets and the institutional knowledge of long-term staff to guide and optimize its maintenance strategy, the MWA required a more modern, data-driven approach to support their decision-making related to upgrades.

The MWA decided to implement an infrastructure asset management program that would give them a complete picture of all their assets and enable them to prioritize and address high-risk areas to increase the lifespan of their assets, save money and prevent system failures. In early 2023, the MWA enlisted the expertise of MentorAPM’s asset performance management approach that began with a criticality and risk assessment, saving time and money by focusing resources on the most critical assets.

The analysis involved the two teams coming together to identify all the MWA’s assets and assign a criticality rating based on the likelihood of failure and the consequences of such a failure. They considered various criteria, including the agency’s goals and mission, maintenance performed, historical data, failure rates, regulatory requirements, service levels, service agreements and staff and public safety. The Criticality Analyzer module from the MentorAPM asset management platform captured 100 percent of MWA’s assets, providing an accurate ranking of criticality and risk based on historical data.

“We didn’t always have the risk we were assuming,” said Mike Simpson, director of operations at the Mojave Water Agency. “In some cases, we had plenty of backup, or an asset wasn’t as critical as we thought. In other cases, we needed to look at an asset more closely. The criticality analysis helped us identify where resources should be allocated to minimize potential risks and where we could save money on unnecessary expenses.” 

“The analysis helped us determine the most essential repairs or replacements so we could address them immediately. What’s exciting is that we can estimate the cost of a repair, the time it will take to make that repair, and the savings we will achieve because of it,” said Simpson, who notes that the cost savings can be redirected to additional maintenance issues or new capital investments.

All hands on deck for a sustainable water future

Water challenges loom large on the horizon. With weather patterns becoming dramatically more volatile and less predictable, our past approaches to water infrastructure management are no playbook for the future. Water engineers have come face-to-face with the reality that a new era of water quality threats is here, and adapting is paramount.

With its ability to aid water utilities in accurately assessing risk and deriving maximum value from assets, asset management is a critical component of properly managing water resources.  Using solid asset management, companies, governments and professionals worldwide can effectively and collectively preserve and maximize the value of the planet’s water. Life on earth literally depends on it.