Water storage facilities—the assets that make up a utility’s water storage system—generally have a fixed life cycle and lose value over time as the system ages and deteriorates. Along with this deterioration, the ability of the department or utility to reliably deliver the level of service that customers expect may be compromised.
As a physical system’s assets age and deteriorate, the costs of operation and maintenance increase—a classic example of “pay me now or pay considerably more later.” Some cities or utilities do not have a complete inventory of their water storage assets, let alone an account of their age, condition, and expected life. It is critical as a first step in managing these assets to understand the current state of water storage facilities.
The aging of water storage facilities offers a significant opportunity to reduce operational and capital costs. Through proactive approaches that address informed investment of maintenance and capital funds, utilities can prioritize repair and replacement needs.
The good news for utility leaders is that the estimates are largely based on “book life” of existing storage facilities, rather than their “current condition.” Deterioration rates can vary depending on several factors, resulting in discrepancies in the length of time assets last in relation to their documented design and rate of investment.
Due to flat or even declining budgets, utility managers are often tasked with doing more with less, and in some cases with much less budget. As a result, many utilities continue the practice of deferring maintenance.
While deferring maintenance provides utilities with a financial relief in the shortterm, the costs of replacing deteriorated assets later on prove exponentially burdensome. Furthermore, continued inaction places utilities and municipalities at a risk of having terms dictated to them in the future due to deteriorating assets and utility financial conditions.
Improving utilities’ awareness of the current condition and performance of water storage facilities is paramount to effectively maintaining an efficient utility. This knowledge not only helps reduce future levels of major rehabilitation through corrosion mitigation today, but also improves facility performance and compliance in the long run.
Corrosion typically is a precursor for significant deterioration of storage roofing systems, shells, and other structures that reduces the life expectancy and increases the required replacement costs and cycle.
There are many options utilities can use to address aging water storage facilities and manage costs. The best approach involves looking at water storage operations holistically and moving forward to develop an inventory and assessment of water storage facilities. Without this understanding of a system’s current state, utilities will have a daunting task to face. This is even more critical as the majority of water storage facilities constructed in the early 1970s are nearing the end of their design life. A sound understanding of asset management can help reduce this burden and become the basis for a systematic approach to asset repair and replacement.