The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

Advancing a new sustainable infrastructure paradigm and practice in the Northwest and beyond

The Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Blog

Seattle Public Utilities’ Asset Management Decision Making

May 13th, 2016 · No Comments · --Integrated Systems--, Water

The CSI-convened Future of Washington Infrastructure group had the chance to learn about Seattle Public Utilities’ (SPU) asset management decision making process for capital projects. Jenny Bagby, SPU’s Director of Corporate Services, gave several interesting examples of how this major utility concludes when and how it should spend money to solve existing problems.

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Jenny Bagby (far left) and CSI director Rhys Roth (second from right) are pictured above sitting on a panel discussion on sustainable infrastructure April 2016, Seattle.

The Phinney Ridge Pump Station serves as a good case study. Building a new pump station was recommended by a consultant report. When SPU was deciding whether or not to approve this project, they asked themselves “what is the root problem that we are trying to address?” The answer was that some residents were experiencing low water pressure. Instead of framing this project as the “Phinney Ridge Pump Station” they reframed the issue as “Phinney Ridge Low Pressure” and subsequently discovered several additional options for addressing the problem. One of these options was installing individual booster pumps in customers’ homes or in the sidewalk near affected areas.

Benefits were calculated for each of the potential options and included the value of increased water pressure for residences, the value of increased pressure for fire flow, and the construction cost disruption. Bagby’s talk highlighted several additional examples of how asset management decision making has saved the City of Seattle and SPU’s ratepayers’ money, and reduced environmental impact.

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The Cedar River Bridge Replacement program serves as another great example. The replacement of several concrete bridges over the Cedar River were going to cost up to $10 million. By performing an analysis that incorporated alternate ways of thinking about this problem, SPU realized that instead of replacing all of the bridges, they could decommission some of the roads that required bridge replacements. They also opted for smaller steel bridges, deciding that concrete ones were unnecessary since only small trucks would be driving over them. In the end they saved significant amounts of both time and money ($82,098 and 8 days of work vs. $387,275 and 81 days)

SPU is lucky enough to have five full-time economists on staff which is not the case for most utilities. These economists spent a total of about 1.25 Full Time Equivalent on business cases. How can smaller municipalities be encouraged to reframe the problems that they face in order to consider all of the potentially overlooked options, and to analyze the costs and benefits to arrive at the most financially and environmentally sustainable option? These are some of the questions that the Future of Washington Infrastructure group is currently grappling with.

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