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WHAT MEASURES, BOTH PROCEDURALLY AND TECHNOLOGICALLY, ARE UTILITIES TAKING TO PROTECT THEIR CRITICAL WATER AND SEWER INFRASTRUCTURE?
Robert Edwards: At Citizens Energy Group, the first procedure to protecting the water system begins with the screening of locate requests each day. A 100-foot buffer has been established around critical water mains within the Citizens Energy Group’s 4,700-mile water system. The Citizens Energy Group map viewer technology integrated with the technology of SAMCO Locate Company (who locates all of Citizens Energy Group’s Water, Sewer and Gas Infrastructure) creates high profile emails that are sent to Citizens Energy System inspectors and supervisor of water operations the minute the locate ticket is created for review. Since the locate request is sent in email format, the locate tickets can be double checked using the search option with key words like directional drill or soil boring. The Citizens Energy Group Water System inspectors will call all contractors working within the critical main buffers and, if needed, visit the sites and inspect the project area. A test hole is always required on a critical main if a directional drill is crossing the main or a soil bore is within 20 feet.
Our locating company is required to notify Citizens Energy Group of any conflicts with water mains 12 inches and larger. An additional notification is communicated when large projects are starting, such as street improvement projects, sewer main installation projects or huge fiber internet directional bore projects. Sixty locate technicians are in the field every day helping Citizens Energy Group protect the entire infrastructure from potential damages.
In the past couple years, there have been several different internet providers offering faster internet services to all customers. To meet this service demand, new conduits are installed carrying fiber cable. Citizens Energy Group, like every other utility operator in the United States, has experienced hundreds of directional bore rigs from all over the country invading cities and towns. At Citizens Energy Group, the water operations supervisor of planning and inspection visits every out-of-state contractor and conducts tool box training with visual aids to educate them on the water system. Also, the Indiana dig laws are covered in the training along with highlights of CGA Best Practices. Most importantly, contact information is exchanged just in case a damage to a water line occurs. Before we leave, the contractor receives all the rules, standards and procedures needed to proceed safely.
Finally, for the past 35 years, a Public Works Commission Council has met monthly to discuss projects currently in progress or in the planning stage for Indianapolis and the surrounding counties. Every utility operator is in attendance along with state and city engineers. The coordination of these members helps protect the infrastructures of Indianapolis, Marion County and all surrounding counties.
When you think about the water industry, remember:
– A water pipe is unique! It is the only underground utility pipe that carries a product everyone puts in their body.
– When a Citizens Energy water pipe is damaged, professional employees repair the pipe and ensure NO bacteria or toxins are allowed to enter the pipe.
At Citizens Energy Group, we are serious about providing safe drinking water to our customers.
“START TO JOIN THE FUTURE BY PLANNING TO COLLECT ACCURATE GEO-REFERENCED DIGITAL INFORMATION NOW .”
Mark Bruce: Locating existing utilities through the 811 program continues to be a very successful tool. Moving to the future, we need to look outside of the box with the use of improving technology, cost reductions of current technology and platforms that are ubiquitous, many of which were non-existing a decade ago. I believe that digital utility information that is securely distributed is the new frontier. All utility assets locations should be mapped in GIS databases at accuracies of better than 30 cm (12-inch) with XYZ information, “X” and “Y” being the horizontal and “Z” being the vertical, above sea level. As hardware and software improves, lateral 10 cm (4-inch) accuracy for XY will be the expected norm. The GPS vertical tolerance is normally twice that of the horizontal.
Asset materials, size, and manufacturer should be recorded. Polyethylene (PE) pipe used for natural gas distribution and the development of ASTM F2897, released in 2015, allows for tracking of the manufacturer, date and batch of all the materials through additional bar codes on the material. As the databases are accurately populated, the mapping should include the tolerances of the accuracies of the XYZ from both the GPS and locating receivers when used. Installation from trenchless and open trench as-builts can be collected efficiently, accurately and ultimately at lower cost. Repairs and modifications of systems can be collected in the same manner. Anytime an asset is affected, the information needs to be recorded. The costs for high accuracy of a GPS U.S. based system and other GNSS constellations like Galileo, GLONASS, SBAS, QZSS and BeiDou satellite constellation systems receivers, have been in the $6,000 and greater range. With more satellites on more frequencies, and with higher power, the capability for better accuracy is enhanced. Additionally, in the past, to get accuracies that are sub 12” require corrections services which have had significant operational costs.
Significant autonomous driving engineering has led to very rapid development of high accuracy GNSS multiple constellation receivers. The equipment costs are beginning to plummet. As an indicator of this, Broadcom® announced in 2017 a chip for mobile phones for late 2018 manufacture that allow 12” accuracy. Software to track trenchless horizontal drilling and HDD are being used now. With low-cost geo-positioning, I believe that the future use of this and other digital information collection methods will be a requirement for installation contracts. The future will bring low cost, high accuracy positioning to everyone that has a cell phone.
Every piece of data can be geo-referenced in the field for new installation, inspection and maintenance. Professional grade receiver solutions with correction achieving 4-inch accuracy are just becoming available with overall costs of equipment and correction service of less than 15% of the 2016 costs. This allows the industry to start now to easily capture all asset and as-builts with global positioning references and asset material type and composition. All as-builts will be digital as this data grows to a critical mass, and with the elimination of field visits with locators for 811 responses, costs will be reduced.
Why is this a big deal? Inherent in the current system of installation, based upon paper record keeping, is a large lag time — months, at best, to many years of delay to update the utility mapping. Response times of three days and longer are not unusual for 811 locates. Imagine a system of minutes to respond to 811 requests, based upon up-to-date mapping vs. historical field locates.
“Impossible!”, some may say. It is as low as three minutes now from request to response within the British Columbia 811 system (bconecall.bc.ca). Once we realize the world is about to shift to a new paradigm, we can envision the future. The mobile phone of the future will receive the utility info by map. But better yet, we will use AR (augmented reality) to “see” the utility underground by using a mobile phone when phone location accuracy advances.
Advantages include the higher call-in rate for using 811 services. Even homeowners will be able to request, receive and use locate information almost immediately. The speed of bringing as-builts rapidly into the utility database and disbursing the information to the user will drive risk down and lower cost. Waiting for locates is often painfully expensive for the contractors. The end user of the utility is ultimately the payer through higher rate costs.
As it captures the locations and details of the materials, they will plan and track systemic maintenance better. If defective batches of product are found, they can be accurately targeted for replacement. The utility enterprise that knows its assets in detail will have higher enterprise value vs. others that are making broad assumptions from less accurate information. Preliminary cost estimates in some industries indicate that costs savings can have a 10:1 simple return over a 15- year period, with breakeven in five to six years with greater data integration of geo-referenced system data.
Manual locating field costs will be minimized once the data is obtained and as digital as-builts will replace paper of dubious accuracy. Billing for installation components can be automated and design parameters vs. as-builts can be more easily verified. Regulatory reporting and asset management will be easier. The public will be better protected and served. Adoption will take a decade or more and regulators will need to support the digital geo-referenced world. It is coming.
As a result, those utilities that have accurately digitized and geo-referenced data will have the opportunity to be more efficient and be perceived and evaluated as having higher enterprise value, especially important for investor-owned utilities.
Start to join the future by planning to collect accurate geo-referenced digital information now!
Robert Edwards is Supervisor, Planning and Inspection for Citizens Energy Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Mark Bruce is President of Cross Bore Safety Association. He can be reached at email@example.com.