Plugging a Leak Before it Happens

As many water and wastewater facility managers can attest, equipment maintenance and upkeep involves the regular inspection, testing and replacement or repair of equipment that makes up the backbone of an operational system.
Specifically, facility managers are on the lookout for conditions that could cause breakdowns or failures at various points within a water or wastewater system, resulting in a major disruption of that system.
The first and probably most effective step a water or wastewater facility manager can make is to improve the facility’s preventive maintenance methods within its general maintenance program. This can involve the simple extension or enhancement of a facility’s current preventive maintenance program—steps many facilities already are incorporating.
WWD recently interviewed a number of water and wastewater facility experts in order to get their feedback on equipment-related issues as well as their opinions on how to ensure the prevention of problems before they occur.

A necessary exercise

Predictably, one can presume that proper equipment maintenance and upkeep of a water or wastewater facility’s equipment is an integral and essential process to operate the facility successfully and to keep the equipment functional as long as possible.
“Equipment maintenance is very important,” said Wade Starlin, operations manager at The Southern Iowa Rural Water Association (SIRWA). “It is how we keep our operations running smoothly.”
Accordingly, following regularly scheduled equipment maintenance and upkeep per the equipment manufacturer’s recommended specifications can help extend the life span of the equipment in a water or wastewater facility and reduce system down time later.
“We strive to maintain all equipment and facilities according to recommended schedules to minimize corrective maintenance and extend the life cycle of the equipment to better control costs,” said Rebecca West, director of technical services for the Spartanburg (S.C.) Water System and Sewer District.
Another integral part of a maintenance program involves the amount of time employees spend on preventive maintenance and upkeep.
“The SIRWA spends approximately 75% of our time on maintenance,” Starlin told WWD. “We feel you can never do enough preventive maintenance.”
“If I had to compare maintenance time to operational time, maintenance time is approximately 60% of the daily activities—this is preventive and corrective maintenance time combined,” West added. “We have several older facilities that require additional preventive maintenance because of the age of the equipment and, typically, this equipment requires more preventive maintenance because of the way it was designed.”
Of course, finding the available manpower to maintain the equipment is a problem many water and wastewater facilities face as fiscal cutbacks force many to lay off employees. The result is fewer employees to do even more assignments.
“With a shrinking number of workers and expanding duties and responsibilities, it can be difficult to maintain standards,” said Jon Brown, water/sewage plant supervisor in the Mendocino (Calif.) District. “There is always more that can be done.”
Terry Werner, a public works superintendent in Post Falls, Idaho, echoed Brown’s comments adding, “we have one person on staff for maintenance of our plant and collection system. At times, we could use a second person in getting all the worked completed.”

A key variable

How can water and wastewater facilities combat the problem of fewer employees?
One possible solution to the increased amount of time spent addressing equipment maintenance and upkeep can be found in the choice of equipment selected for installation by a water or wastewater facility. As WWD readers can imagine, the equipment’s performance history is undoubtedly a key variable that is addressed when it comes to selecting the right type of equipment, especially considering the application.
“The more critical the application, the closer a product’s performance history will be taken into account,” Brown told WWD.
West agreed, saying, “performance history is a very important requirement for selection of equipment. We review the performance history of equipment we presently have and performance history from similar applications if we are considering new equipment that we have no experience with.”
As such, part of making this decision process easier can be found in the form of case studies and application stories, which can factually prove the equipment’s reliability, dependability and worth in various water- and wastewater-
related applications.
“If it [the equipment] has a proven track record with other municipalities, then it makes a difference,” said Starlin.
Another option involves witnessing the equipment in operation in a similar application at a neighboring water or wastewater facility—an opportunity that can lead to an invaluable endorsement.
“We use site visits to compliment the case study information where feasible,” said West.
Taking the scenario even further and perhaps most importantly, another endorsement can be found in the opinions of the operators who monitor and use the equipment on a daily basis.
Equipment that performs consistently well over time usually will result in the operator endorsing it and recommending a return to that same brand of equipment when needed for future, comparable applications.
“If the product works good, we will continue to use it,” Starlin told WWD.

Funding versus performance

One critical factor when it comes to the maintenance and upkeep of equipment in a water and wastewater facility is funding.
Funding plays a rather large role in the decision-making process as more funds generally can be correlated to more reliable equipment, which in turn could lead to less maintenance in the long run.
And, as some facilities are operating on a reduced budget, they face even more financial pressure. Therefore, other factors must be examined when it comes to selecting equipment for installation.
“Money is an important factor, but performance and application are equally important,” West told WWD.
Brown agreed that money plays a critical role saying, “we have to compete for funding, and in a time of shrinking budgets, it is imperative to make whatever funds go as far as possible. Product reliability and safety are some other factors that go into the decision making.”
Werner placed emphasis on his budget as well saying, “money always plays a factor as we operate within our budget restraints.”
Undoubtedly, a utility cannot afford to buy top of the line equipment every time there is a failure. Shopping around for not only the best price but also the best performing equipment from a distributor is important.
“If we know it is a good product we will buy it, but we look at what distributor has the best buy on the product we want,” Starlin told WWD. “In most instances, you get what you pay for.”

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Words of advice

Sometimes, the best piece of advice can be offered from a professional peer. WWD polled those interviewed for this article and asked them offer a piece of professional advice for utility mangers when it comes to the maintenance and upkeep of their water or wastewater facility’s equipment. Here is what they had to say:
• “Do your homework,” said Brown. “Spend the time it takes to keep yourself knowledgeable and aware of what’s going on locally and in a global sense.”
• “Always involve your operations and maintenance staff in the selection of equipment and train, train train,” said West. “Once your operations and maintenance staff understand how a piece of equipment operates and what role it plays in the application, they will help you select a good product. Their input and assistance with selection of the equipment will support their ‘buy in’ and will encourage optimization of the equipment and, in turn, enhance your asset management program.”
• Preventive maintenance is a lot cheaper than unscheduled maintenance,” said Starlin. “Take the time and spend the money necessary to keep your equipment in good shape. It will save a guy [sic] a lot of headaches.”

Tim Gregorski is editor of WWD.

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