Earlier this year, the American Society of Civil Engineers released its 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. As expected, the results were disappointing as the nation’s infrastructure earned a D+ grade. More recently, a survey by the U.S. EPA revealed that $384 billion in improvements will be needed for the nation’s drinking water infrastructure through 2030.
It’s no surprise that several of these funding issues still loom across the water sector, as municipalities and utilities continue to face critical decisions not only concerning the best methods to improve infrastructure, but also in determining the best ways to spend valuable resources. Despite these challenges, there are still positive developments emerging. New technologies and software platforms such as SCADA and GIS offer utilities innovative methods for monitoring critical infrastructure throughout a utility. Utilities are also taking the initiative to implement asset management programs in order to better manage and maintain resources.
Elected officials routinely make tough decisions, and the ones concerning a community’s infrastructure are no exception. This month, we sat down with a group of mayors from across the United States for our annual UIM roundtable conversation, to examine some of the different ways cities across the country are managing their water infrastructure systems. The mayors polled in this year’s roundtable are: Stephen Buxbaum, Olympia, Wash.; Christopher Cabaldon, West Sacramento, Calif.; Richard Carr, Maumee, Ohio; Brian Loughmiller, McKinney, Texas; and Ed Pawlowski, Allentown, Pa.
Richard Carr, Maumee, Ohio
Mayor Richard “Rich” Carr was first elected to Maumee’s city council in 1989 before being re-elected in 1989, 1991, 2001 and 2005. A lifelong Maumee resident, Mayor Carr has been a Partner in the law firm of Balk, Hess and Miller since 1984. He is the chairman of Maumee’s Public Safety Committee and a member of Building & Lands, Land Use & Zoning and Public Information. Previously, Mayor Carr was president of the Maumee Chamber of Commerce and the Maumee Rotary Club. He received Maumee’s Outstanding Citizen Award in 2000 and is an Ohio State Bar Association Fellow and Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow.
[BELOW ARE MAYOR CARR’S RESPONSES TO UIM]
As a public official, how do you view the importance of water and sewer systems as how it relates to economic prosperity and quality of life?
CARR – “Clean water is perhaps one of the most important resources a municipality needs to support and retain its residential population and the local industries that employ them. An efficient, well-managed water infrastructure is critical, as it serves as the backbone for ensuring that this resource is readily accessible.”
What are the major issues affecting your water/wastewater system (aging infrastructure, water supply, finance/funding, etc.)? What problems are unique to your situation/location?
“CARR – Maumee has grown to become one of the larger business centers in Northwest Ohio, and to support this growth, we significantly expanded our water infrastructure to the point where its size required our staff to spend excessive amounts of time manually collecting meter readings each billing period. Many of the water meters in our service area had also become inaccurate with age, which compromised our ability to accurately measure the amount of water distributed through our system, and it led to an increase in billing-related questions from residents that we could not answer due to the limited and potentially inaccurate information we had at our disposal.
To remedy this problem, we deployed a fixed two-way AMI network, known as Mi.Net from Mueller Systems and replaced all water meters in our service area. By taking such action, we now have the efficiencies in place to improve conservation, help customers better understand their water usage and support the increasing service demands that are inevitable as Maumee’s population continues to grow.”
Technology is changing the way utilities manage, plan and operate their systems. How has technology changed your utility? What new programs or technologies have you implemented and what has been the result (ex: AMI, Software/GIS, SCADA, etc.)?
CARR – “Our recent water meter upgrades and AMI network deployment is helping us to more accurately and efficiently account for all of the water we distribute through our system. The new meters help ensure that we’re accurately measuring how much water our customers are using at any given time, and the AMI system is allowing us to monitor the entire distribution network and collect all meter readings from the office.
Previously, it was difficult for us to notice data patterns that were symptoms of potential leaks because it would take weeks to manually collect meter readings. Essentially, the data was obsolete by the time it made it to the water department. Now that we’re able to collect and access meter readings in real-time, we can quickly notice any anomalies that may indicate leaks in the system or other service-related issues. Plus, the AMI system itself is configured to alert us of any leaks it detects in the network — 24/7.”
What area of your water/wastewater system are you most proud of? Why?
CARR – “We’re most proud of the AMI network we now have in place, particularly because it has improved our ability to serve customers while showing them that we take conservation as seriously as they do.
One of the components of this network is a web-based portal that customers can use to set budget alerts and better understand their water usage behavior by viewing their usage in daily, weekly or monthly increments. We’ve launched a campaign that encourages them to leverage the portal in order to help them notice time periods where they tend to use more water than normal and understand how this usage affects their bills. Having access to this type of data as well as the ability to set budget alerts through the portal will not only help customers save money, but will also give them the means to curb their water usage and improve conservation.”