Arthur Astarita, Maine State LeadÂ
RCAP Solutionsâ€™ experience has shown that developed, small-sized systems (<3300 connections), have a wide-range of documenting capital improvements.Â Typically a written sheet is developed showing a list of improvements including costs and is used to plan proposed upgrades.Â This â€œmental listâ€ is generated and updated when events arise that call for a new suggestion or thought but does not contain a comprehensive look at the entire system and financial health. Â It is not holistic which is required to assure the system is operated in a long term and responsible manner.
More often is the case that only when equipment fails are capital improvement projects created to address the urgency rather than a planned approach.Â Commonly, an engineering firm scopes out this â€œreactionaryâ€ project through the required preliminary engineering report (PER). Â The engineering firm usually has a working relationship with the system and retains the â€œtechnical knowledgeâ€ but the firm does not usually conduct streaming-asset-performance analysis.Â In todayâ€™s sustainability world, in order for the system to remain solvent and meet regulatory requirements, they must have the tools to document predicted equipment failure, replacement cost estimates and impacts to consumer rates.Â Regular system maintenance and observations are necessary for this streaming performance analysis, replacement prediction and financial planning.
The free EPA CUPSS program (www.epa.gov/cupss) affords systems a one-stop shop to document inventory attributes, critical maintenance tasks, revenue/expense finances, mission statements, level of services, system service details along with history and report outputs for analysis.Â Supported nationwide, it can become the common, simple routine for all systems to report in standard format.Â This standard reporting can lead to building local and regional expertise in a â€œutility-helping-utilityâ€ network, generate detailed grass-roots funding gaps and impress our congressional leaders of their constituentsâ€™ needs.
Commonly, operators/superintendents have an ease using CUPSSâ€™ import template; an Excel spreadsheet.Â The user can easily copy/paste data from existing records and GIS tables. Conversely, the unique CUPSS output data can join by digitally-indexing to existing record columns and GIS tables. This flexibility allows data capture and enhancement without being repetitive. Technical assistance can be smoothly facilitated by the email exchange of the spreadsheet(s) and phone discussions prior to a site visit for report-output analysis.
Upon completion of the inventory component of the software, CUPSS generates a repair/replacement (R&R) cost schedule.Â Here costs for items can be grouped by decade or by logical project task(s).Â This report is perhaps the most important and critical step in reaching effective utility management.Â This report allows for initial priority and emphasis of improvements along with the cost of those upgrades or maintenance activities.Â This R&R cost schedule allows this critical information to be shared in a concise and organized manner with decision makers overseeing the system.
Another aspect of this program and process is that attention may be given to the maintenance budget within CUPSS. By documenting schedule and non-scheduled maintenance costs of critical equipment, a system can understand the funds needed to extend useful life expectancies.Â This can reduce budget impacts of capital needed for replacement budgets.
With or without the use of CUPPS it is important to note that systems must provide proper managerial and technical expertise to insure public health.Â True sustainability can be approached with the inclusion of an operations and maintenance budget. The creation of and funding in four major reserve accounts is paramount:
- Debt Service: 100% funded
- Emergency O&M: capped at ~25% of your operations budget
- Short-term Assets: All assets <15 year lifespan should be expensed
- Long-term Assets: Capital budget schedule and x% of value should be set aside annually
It is the long-term Asset reserve that is financially critical.Â As governmental subsidies decline, it is increasingly becoming apparent that utilities must develop a holistic business plan approach which focuses on asset management in order to operate the system in a sustainable manner.