Asset Management In Action

Sept. 10, 2014
City of Baltimore takes integrated approach to meeting Clean Water Act obligations & keeping expenditures affordable

About the author: Rudy Chow, P.E., is director of the Baltimore City Department of Public Works. Chow can be reached at [email protected]. Carlos A. Espinosa, P.E., is program manager for MWH Global. Espinosa can be reached at [email protected].


Utilities around the world are facing aging and deteriorating infrastructure, which requires capital to repair, rehabilitate and replace to adequately serve constituents. Specifically in the U.S., many cities and their utilities also are under pressure from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to comply with Clean Water Act requirements. EPA wants cities and utilities to reduce the number and volume of combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs). As a result, many U.S. utilities and municipalities—including the Baltimore City Department of Public Works—are embracing a proactive approach to asset management to meet Clean Water Act obligations while keeping capital and operational expenditures affordable for its customers.

With a population of more than 620,000, the city of Baltimore operates 4,500 miles of water; 1,500 miles of wastewater; and 1,200 miles of storm water pipe. With an average age of almost 80 years, this infrastructure is showing signs of deterioration, such as water main breaks, SSOs and storm water flooding. To address main breaks, the city is implementing an aggressive Water Infrastructure Renewal Program. To address SSOs, the city is funding a comprehensive wastewater collection system evaluation and rehabilitation program under the terms of a September 2002 consent decree with EPA and the Maryland Department of the Environment. To address storm water collection and streambed restoration, the city has established a storm water utility to provide dedicated funding for storm water infrastructure evaluation and rehabilitation and to meet the city’s Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System permit.

As implementation of these programs continues, the city is increasingly concerned that rates remain affordable for the majority of the community. In 2011, with the assistance of water infrastructure consultants at MWH Global, the city began to develop an approach to creating an integrated utility plan that is considerate of environmental benefits, social impacts, financial capabilities and project delivery challenges. The city embraced EPA’s voluntary Integrated Planning Framework (IPF) approach, taking advantage of the flexibility allowed under the new guidance document to prioritize its capital and operational expenditures. This adaptive approach provides a more affordable plan that implements projects with greater benefits in the early plan years while still meeting Clean Water Act requirements.

Proactive & Efficient Operations

In addition to revising capital improvement program project prioritizations, the city formed a new Utility Asset Management Division (UAMD) with the goal of moving operations and maintenance activities from a largely reactive and costly mode of operation to one that is proactive and efficient. 

The UAMD focuses on implementing preventive maintenance programs (e.g. fat, oil and grease abatement; root control; CCTV inspections, etc.) and is responsible for implementing asset management principles that:

  • Keep the city in compliance with water, wastewater and storm water regulations;
  • Provide a sustained level of service and resiliency;
  • Maximize the life and capacity of the existing infrastructure and assets;
  • Provide timely and accurate reporting of operational events, as required by federal, state and local regulations;
  • Develop and implement a sustainable funding strategy for the preventive maintenance and rehabilitation programs;
  • Ensure that asset management is centered on managing risk at a tolerable level; and
  • Integrate sound assessment and evaluation, and utilize full lifecycle cost analysis into asset planning and decision making.

The division consists of three sections. The Planning and Analysis Section assesses and prioritizes work to ensure projects follow the division’s principles. The Data Management Section manages the work order systems and databases to provide up-to-date and real time data. The Preventive Maintenance Section performs the work identified by the planning and analysis group, utilizing both city maintenance crews and on-call contractors. 

Prior to creating the UAMD, the city had focused on capital expenditures to eliminate engineered SSO structures and provide additional conveyance capacity that reduced wet weather SSO discharges. The city has completed 39 projects totaling approximately $330 million, including more than 29 miles of sewer rehabilitation and more than 10 miles of new or replaced sewer line. To date, the city has eliminated 60 of the 62 structured overflow locations.

While the elimination of most engineered SSO structures reduced the number and volume of wet weather SSO discharges, the generally smaller dry weather SSO discharges—though trending downward—still must be resolved. Meanwhile, there are many other capital needs for sewer, water and storm water projects. Balanced against the limited ability of its customers to keep paying for further rate increases, the city must consider total affordability concerns as it lays out its capital spending plans. 

Integrated Utility Planning

To better consider these factors, the city developed an IPF, as recommended by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, to manage its infrastructure needs. The city’s approach considers all water, wastewater and storm water assets to break down silos in service and balance priorities and resources across the utility.

In January 2013, Baltimore was one of the first municipalities to submit a documented IPF in compliance with EPA guidance. EPA has commended the city for the comprehensiveness of its efforts in developing an integrated plan and indicated the city’s IPF methodology should continue to the stakeholder input phase. The IPF provides a holistic view of infrastructure costs, including water, wastewater and storm water infrastructure, through the 2030 planning period, and demonstrates affordability impacts to ratepayers. The city is committed to this integrated utility planning process to inform its future capital investment, and operations and maintenance decision making.

Positive Results

Through the asset management and integrated planning approaches, the city of Baltimore is successfully balancing the affordability of its water, wastewater and storm water infrastructure programs for residents with environmental, regulatory and project delivery needs. The proactive asset management approach allows the city to achieve better service levels and system reliability, reduce dry weather SSOs, and achieve federal and state regulatory compliance.

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