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WaterOperator.org Blog

Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

Challenges Developing an Asset Management Program

Challenges Developing an Asset Management Program

Developing and maintaining an asset management program benefits the short and long-term operations of any utility. During operational, financial, and managerial decision making, choices can be backed by quantifiable data and knowledge gathered from asset inventories, condition assessments, and risk assessments. Furthermore, the maps, spreadsheets, and reports generated for asset management programs can improve communication between board members and utility staff. Asset management programs allow utilities to shift their operations to preventative maintenance and long-term planning.

The recommended methods to develop asset management programs are well documented, however implementation of such methods in the real world generates a slew of both predictable and unpredictable challenges. Fortunately for all communities, it is the responsibility and the nature of any utility to problem solve and overcome these challenges.

In October of 2017, the Michigan Water Environment Association (MWEA) and the Michigan Section American Water Works Association (MI-AWWA) hosted a roundtable seminar on asset management plan development. The results of this roundtable highlight how communities and their consultants developed their own plans in response to new regulatory requirements in Michigan. The Spring 2018 Edition of MWEA Matters summarizes the actual approaches undertaken by these facilities and how they overcame individual challenges in developing an asset management program. These approaches and challenges were divided into six categories:  inventory, condition assessment, risk, O&M/ capital planning, rate integration & level of service, and software.

Most challenges in asset inventories arose around the question of how and where to organize data so that information could be related to other data sources. Challenges in condition assessment were often rooted in cost limitations, evaluating underground infrastructure, and weighting the data available from equipment history, maintenance history, age, condition scores, visual inspections, engineering judgement, and operational institutional knowledge. During risk assessment difficulties emerge when estimating risk for uninspected equipment or considering system redundancies. The final challenge lies in determining how to make maintenance program and financial decisions by balancing institutional knowledge with system modeling.

Utilities can find expertise in avoiding or overcoming these common program develop challenges through the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) or the National Rural Water Association (NRWA). We also recommend searching through our online resource library to find program develop manuals, spreadsheets, and tips to get started. For a general overview of the program development process, review the 13 Session Asset Management Training Slides by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Developing an Asset Management Program

Developing an Asset Management Program

Asset management is a critical component to the short and long-term success of every water and wastewater utility regardless of size or system type. When a system understands the condition of its assets, in addition to present and future projected needs, the utility can make informed decisions about infrastructure operations, management, and investments. These decisions will minimize expenditures, equipment failures, and risk to public health while promoting reliability, resiliency, compliance, and customer satisfaction. Asset management moves utilities from reactive to proactive decision making and allows systems to get the most out of what they have.

If your facility has never developed an asset management plan or it’s been quite some time since you’ve last revised your plan, we’ve highlighted our favorite resources to get you back on track. A well-developed plan includes asset inventories, operation and maintenance tasks, emergency response and contingency planning, comprehensive financial plans, succession planning, and an understanding of current and future service level goals. Without addressing the technical, managerial, and financial management of your system, your plan will be incomplete. So without further ado, here’s our favorite resources to help you improve your understanding of asset management and develop your own program.

What is Asset Management?

Developing an Asset Management Plan

Writing Your Plan

Additional Help: Asset Assessment, Financial Planning, and Program Review

Developing a new plan can seem like an intimidating project, however utilities will ultimately improve their services and decision making capacity while saving time, resources, and money. If your system needs help developing or assessing a program, check out the EPA’s list of technical and financial assistance providers or contact WaterOperator.org to have help finding a provider. The EPA maintains a list of capacity development contacts that can answer any questions about specific requirements of your primacy agency.

To find additional information on asset management, visit our resource library. You can use the category filter to narrow down your search by topics in asset management, financial management, utility management, and more. Our library can also be filtered by resource type such as manuals, videos, or templates. The other filter options can refine your results to a specific host organization or state. Check out our tutorial to use the library to the best of its capabilities.