Improving Water Infrastructure in the Digital Age

International World Water Day (March 22) is a great time to take a quick dive into the deep end of water infrastructure in the US and look at how water agencies across the country are overcoming challenges with a little help from technology. 

We’ve all read or at least heard the dire warnings issued by the authors of the ASCE 2017 Infrastructure Report Card about aging infrastructure across all sectors from transportation to utilities, particularly water related assets. The American Water Works Association estimates $1 trillion—yes, trillion—is required to maintain and expand service to meet demands over the next 25 years.

It’s largely up to state and local agencies to get a handle on the necessary upgrades and improvements while establishing more cost-effective, sustainable and environmentally-friendly networks within the framework of existing program management practices. 

It’s not easy.  Often largely paper-based, highly bureaucratic and understaffed, many of these agencies already struggle with tracking and managing all the parts and pieces of projects without adding a large capital improvement program to the mix.

That’s why progressive agencies such as Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the City of Arlington, Texas, are taking a technology-based approach, adopting and adapting a web-based project management information system (PMIS), e-Builder Enterprise to their operations.

For instance, PWSA has shifted from a fix-as-fails mode of repair and replacement to a system preservation and maintenance approach—and along with that shift, the agency is spending 4x (around $60 million) annually on repairs and upgrades. With the increased investment came the need to improve project management and increase visibility into associated financials.  That’s why PWSA also adopted a PMIS that is helping them instantly and easily track, manage and visualize where work is proposed, ongoing or complete—all with the same size staff.

Similarly, the City of Arlington Departments of Public Works & Transportation, Water Utilities, and Parks & Recreation is managing a multi-million-dollar capital improvement program that will include water, sewer, drainage, roadway, facility construction, and park projects. They’re specifically using the technology to enable the capital improvement program team to easily allocate and track monies from different funding sources.

As we strive towards universal access to clean water, sanitation facilities and sustainable management of freshwater resources, let’s applaud the many agencies across the country that work tirelessly to maintain and improve our modern conveniences…with a little help from technology.  

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