| New Buried No Longer tool analyzes pipe infrastructure
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New Buried No Longer tool analyzes pipe infrastructure

Like many asset managers, Frank Roth was buried in Excel spreadsheets.

He needed to understand the replacement costs of his utility’s collection system, a challenging task because his system has 2,600 miles of sewer pipe and 3,100 miles of distribution pipe. His utility, like many others, devotes hundreds of hours to evaluating the integrity of its infrastructure.

Now there’s an easier way.

AWWA’s new, web-based Buried No Longer® tool gives individual utilities a 20- to 30-year economic forecast for pipe repair and replacement. The output data can be broken out by pipe size or pipe material categories.

The new tool is an update of the previous Buried No Longer tool for drinking water and now can be used for both water and wastewater systems. It captures backlogs and deferred maintenance impacts, provides custom-made data for a utility’s unique inventory, and generates charts for presentations to the board.

“This tool is an excellent way to evaluate your needs and be aware of critical issues that might come up,” said Roth, who works at the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Authority in New Mexico. “It looks at the pipe, its age, size and condition. Most importantly, it forecasts what your system’s needs are in the future for renewal, replacement and service levels.”

The tool was designed by AWWA’s Water Utility Council and is available on the Association’s website. It requires a minimum amount of data to produce replacement and repair projections, although some utilities may have to gather existing data in one location for the first time. 

“The input data do not need to be perfect, especially on a first pass using the tool,” Roth said.

The previous Buried No Longer tool was Excel-based and wasn’t available for wastewater pipe inventory.

The new version updates the drinking water methodology and provides 29 different graphical outputs that can assist a utility with communicating a profile of their unique buried infrastructure needs.

Several utilities tested the latest version soon after it was developed, including the Boston Water & Sewer Commission. John Sullivan, the commission’s chief engineer, said the utility invested much time, money and energy in 2010 to develop a system-wide asset management plan. More recently, it used the updated Buried No Longer tool.

“The results we got were closely aligned with our customized asset inventory model developed with significant consultant support and resources,” Sullivan said.

The City of Bozeman Water Department in Montana also used the new BNL tool, said John Alston, the city's water/sewer operations superintendent, adding that it is useful to small- and medium-sized utilities struggling to communicate with politicians and the public about capital planning, deferred maintenance, and asset management.

Sanitation District No. 1 of Northern Kentucky has also used the new tool.

“At first, we were skeptical, but have found great benefit to our capital program from gathering inventory data about our system to generate a consolidated profile,” said Dave Rager, the district’s former CEO, who will become AWWA’s president-elect next month. “The outputs generated by BNL have been a tremendous visual communications tool to support the maintenance and investment needs facing our system.”

The tool includes a feature that allows users to enter a Deferral Case based on budgetary or other restrictions. It estimates the spending needed to catch up on replacement and repair needs when the deferral period is over, and reveals projections of utility spending on replacement and repairs over time, replacement miles per year, and per capita replacement expenses. It also projects service interruptions per mile and gives an investment profile over time.

Roth has worked with both the old and new BNL tools and found the updated version easier to use. It helps utilities reduce the number of unexpected infrastructure failures, he said, and determine system priorities.

“Good information allows for good decision making,” Roth said.

Do you have a comment or story idea for Connections? Please contact Ann Espinola at aespinola@awwa.org or at 303-734-3454.