In 2018, the Town of Cary, North Carolina, developed a buried infrastructure asset management plan. The town, which is near Raleigh in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina, had relatively new water and wastewater infrastructure and had a variety of ongoing asset management practices, but they were not integrated, transparent, and fully documented. Through a year-long process of general and area-specific meetings, the town developed a plan that included immediate, short-term tasks to be completed and also established regular asset management procedures.
In this interview, Dave Hallgren, Cary’s asset manager, speaks with Municipal Water Leader Managing Editor Joshua Dill about how the asset management plan was developed and the benefits it has brought to the municipality.
Joshua Dill: Please tell us about your background and how you came to be in your current position.
Dave Hallgren: I started my engineering career at a smaller municipality where I worked on a variety of capital projects, including water, sewer, sidewalk, and greenway. About 10 years ago, I moved to North Carolina and started working for the Town of Cary, where I continued to manage utility capital improvement projects. As the town started take a more proactive approach to asset management, there was an opportunity to make a career transition, and today I am the town’s asset manager.
Joshua Dill: Please tell us about the Town of Cary’s water and wastewater services.
Dave Hallgren: We serve the citizens of Cary as well as customers at Raleigh-Durham International Airport, the Wake County portion of the Research Triangle Park, and the neighboring town of Morrisville. Our collection and distribution system consists of over 1,000 miles of water main, 980 miles of wastewater main, and 56 miles of reclaimed water main, with treatment handled by three wastewater treatment facilities and one water treatment facility. While the population of the Town of Cary is approaching 170,000, our customer base is even larger because we provide utility service outside town limits.
Joshua Dill: What motivated the town to take a more focused look at asset management, and how did it decide to formulate the buried infrastructure asset management plan?
Dave Hallgren: We are a relatively young community as far as infrastructure is concerned. Our infrastructure is just starting to mature. Much of our infrastructure was installed from the 1970s to the 1990s, and because of this, we have experienced few asset failures. We are lucky that we are ahead of the curve in this regard; it provided us the opportunity to create a unified asset management plan before our assets begin to reach the end of their service life. The goals of this plan were to prioritize assets to reduce risk, optimize maintenance and renewal, and reinforce fiscal responsibility. We know that our utility assets are going to age, but having a plan in place will help us maximize their lifespans while continuing to provide safe, reliable, and cost-effective service to our citizens and customers.
Joshua Dill: Please tell us about the development of the plan.
Dave Hallgren: We focused on our linear buried assets, specifically utility infrastructure, including water, wastewater, and reclaimed water, since we already had a robust inventory of utility assets in our geographic information systems (GIS). Because the plan serves as an umbrella over many different activities, we gathered feedback from nearly every department. We held a kickoff meeting in May 2017 with representatives from a wide spectrum of the town’s departments, including nonsupervisory staff, managers, and directors. Each department elected individuals from this group to participate in focus groups and drill down into more specific content within the plan. When we began to assemble the plan, we outlined the chapters based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 5 Core Questions asset management framework. Each question became the focus of a chapter of the plan. In addition, we added an introductory chapter and a final implementation chapter. The entire process took about a year, but this amount of time was vital to ensure that we created the best product possible. In the end, this approach gave Cary a common direction: Town staff from across the organization went through the asset management plan development process together and created a unified vision for the long-term stewardship of our buried infrastructure.
Joshua Dill: What kinds of things is the town implementing based on the analysis that was made in the plan?
Dave Hallgren: In the final implementation chapter of our plan, we have a 5-year task list that provides us with a short-term list of action items and projects to accomplish. We have begun risk-based prioritization for our capital projects to further guide data-driven decisions. This prioritization is most effective with an accurate asset inventory, which for us resides in GIS. Every day, we are improving the GIS schema for each of our asset types to ensure that we have the most up-to-date information available, including pipe size, material, and date of installation.
We are also developing and using new technological tools, such as a work order system in Salesforce; cloud-based closed-circuit TV (CCTV) inspection; and ESRI Collector apps, which gather data directly from our operations field staff. Another big initiative on our 5-year task list is the acquisition of risk-prioritization software to allow us to assign risk scores to all our assets regardless of utility type. This decision support software will be used to reinforce decisions about where and when to perform preventative maintenance and renewal activities.
Joshua Dill: Would you tell us about the challenges of assessing the state of your assets, especially buried and pressurized pipeline?
Dave Hallgren: On the wastewater side, assessment has been straightforward, as we regularly conduct camera inspections on our gravity pipe and condition assessments on our force mains. The water side has been more challenging, since the pipes are not regularly inspected by CCTV. For our critical raw and finished water lines, we have excavated sections of the pipe and performed visual and ultrasonic thickness testing as well as soil testing. We also take advantage of routine opportunities like water main tie-ins, taps, and repairs to obtain physical pipe samples and photographs of existing pipe conditions.
Joshua Dill: What kinds of regular assessments are you going to be doing in years to come?
Dave Hallgren: We have begun issuing an annual asset management report that outlines the status of our asset management progress. This document increases the visibility of the asset management program, reinforces awareness of completed and upcoming action items, and provides a dashboard of town performance based on key performance indicators.
The first half of the report highlights the year’s accomplishments and provides a preview of the expected progress for the coming year. The second half of the report provides the year’s key performance indicator results and compares them to goals established in the asset management plan as well as historical performance.
Joshua Dill: What is your advice for other municipalities that may want to bring together their asset management activities into an integrated plan?
Dave Hallgren: I would definitely recommend it. It doesn’t need to be as in depth as ours, but it is good to have at least a simple plan laid out in advance. One of the struggles with underground infrastructure is that it is underground and therefore easy for people to forget about or underprioritize. A plan helps spread the message in a consistent fashion, provides a goal to focus on, and helps everyone understand and remember the vision. At the Town of Cary, we are fortunate that everyone in our organization is already on board with the concept of asset management, but that is not always the case. An exercise like this can be valuable for municipalities that may need to convince their communities, staff, and elected officials of the necessity of an asset management program. The bottom line is that asset management has to work for your community, so you need a customized solution based on your particular challenges and goals.