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Water: Sustainable Infrastructure

Manage Infrastructure for the Long Term

The demands of daily operations and the constraints of tight budgets can make it difficult to invest the time and resources necessary for successful long-term planning. However, managing and planning for the long term reduces overall costs and leaves your community with a legacy of sustainability.

The communities across the world that are leading the way in infrastructure sustainability have adopted and institutionalized an approach called Asset Management. When all the parts of an Asset Management effort are working together, you will know where you stand and where you are going, and each investment you make will give you the greatest value for your infrastructure dollar.

What is Asset Management?

Asset Management is an approach for managing your infrastructure assets to minimize the total cost of operations and renewal, while delivering the service levels customers desire. Implementing an Asset Management program is built around five core questions:

  • What is the state of all my current assets? Establish an inventory of system parts and their current condition.

  • What level of service are we committed to providing? Knowing what you need to do to both comply with regulations and meet the needs of customers will affect your infrastructure investment decisions.

  • Which assets are critical to sustained performance? Know the likelihood and consequences of your assets breaking and/or failing so you can prioritize investments.

  • What are the least life cycle cost solutions? If an infrastructure investment choice costs less to build but is very expensive to operate and maintain, it may actually cost you more in the long term.

  • What is my long-term funding strategy? Use a firm knowledge of your long-term funding needs, including operations, maintenance, and all capital investments, to build a plan to pay for it.

The Asset Management for Local Officials Fact Sheet (PDF) (2pp, 348K, About PDF) offers more information on these five questions.

Many water sector utilities use some portion of this approach to manage and plan, but many others have not strongly integrated this type of thinking. Speak with your utility's staff to identify the current plan and encourage adoption of the Asset Management approach.

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Why is Asset Management important?

A 2007 survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors (PDF) (28pp, 284K, About PDF) showed how the adoption of Asset Management is gaining steam in U.S. cities and spoke to the many benefits that mayors have seen from their efforts. Perhaps most important is that once an Asset Management system is up and running, it will deliver capital and operations cost savings, as noted by respondents to the survey.

Asset management will help you to "tell the story" of water system assets to the community in a way that is understandable. If you do a good job explaining what your real long-term needs are, it will be easier to garner the support you need to invest in your systems. Small systems that have simple Asset Management plans can benefit as much as large systems that have complex plans.

Water systems need Asset Management to:

  • Address aging water infrastructure assets before they fail.
  • Make costs transparent to support financial decisions.
  • Keep assets productive, and not allow them to become disruptive liabilities.
  • Treat all decisions as investment decisions to maximize limited financial resources.
  • Make the most out of every investment dollar by funding the right projects at the right time.

Asset Management requires:

  • Support and involvement of local officials who have the authority and willingness to commit public resources and personnel to maintain community assets.
  • A commitment of time and money to make cost-effective asset decisions—spending some money in the short term to save more money over the long term.
  • A team made up of key decision makers.

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What is my role as a local official?

Successfully implementing an Asset Management program depends on your support and leadership—to work with and challenge your utilities as they implement Asset Management, and to build support in your community for needed investments. Local officials are key players in successful asset management programs because they are uniquely positioned to address these challenges.

Barriers to implementing an asset management program may include:

  • Expecting to see immediate results.
  • Expanding the focus from operations and maintenance to include a plan for all your assets.
  • Paying for short-term costs to achieve long-term savings.
  • Looking beyond day-to-day needs to embrace a long-term plan for system sustainability.

These barriers can be overcome by building community support for asset management's emphasis on planning as a means for cost-efficient infrastructure investment.

For more information on how to successfully educate the general public on water infrastructure-related issues, visit the "Talk About It" page.

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Additional resources for local officials:

  • EPA's Asset Management Web Pages
  • Bridging the Gap—Video for Public Officials and Water ManagersExit EPA Disclaimer is a ground breaking online video designed to help elected officials and water and wastewater managers make smart choices as they address water and wastewater infrastructure issues. The video outlines the key steps to developing an asset management plan for both novice and experienced professionals. The hosting website provides an online learning experience with an extensive array of reference materials to support the central concepts and real-world examples of emerging best practices and innovations in water asset management. Developed with EPA grant funds, this innovative video and website is a collaborative undertaking with Penn State College of Engineering, World Campus, and its Public Broadcasting units.
  • Multi-sector Asset Management Case Studies (PDF) (88pp, 2.52MB, About PDF). Communities on the cutting edge have been using Asset Management for all of their infrastructure assets, including things like water and transportation. These case studies provide models for the successes that can be achieved through multi-sector approaches.
  • Drinking Water and Wastewater Handbook for Local Officials (PDF) (184pp, 1.5mb, About PDF)Exit EPA Disclaimer

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