November 2008, Vol. 20, No.11

Small Communities

Small Communities

Asset Management for Small Communities

Stephen Hogye, Laura Gomez, Jennifer Moller, and Steve Clark

Of the more than 16,000 public wastewater systems in the United States, more than 70% serve communities with populations of 10,000 or fewer. Additionally, there are about 134,000 public drinking water systems that serve 3300 or fewer people. Many of these small systems have aged considerably, and major components of their systems, including the underground pipe systems, treatment works, pumps, and storage tanks, are reaching the end of their useful life. These parts will need to be rehabilitated or replaced in the near future. Often, outside grants and new development helped fund the original capital investments, but now utilities are faced with major expenses they will have to undertake with limited outside assistance, and in some cases, with a shrinking revenue base.

Operators and managers of these small facilities face daily challenges to meet regulatory requirements at the desired level of service while staying within the budget and personnel constraints of their community. Small communities lack many of the advantages of larger communities and generally have limited budgets, high system costs per household, limited training or expertise, and small staffs. Good asset management practices can help utilities improve their decision-making, resulting in significant cost savings and improved system performance.

CUPSS: A New Tool for Small Systems
In order to assist small facility operators and managers, along with the organizations that provide direct technical assistance to these small systems, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed the Check Up Program for Small Systems (CUPSS) with the help of a workgroup that included representatives from state agencies, technical assistance organizations, EPA regional offices, and small wastewater and drinking water utilities. With this collaborative approach, we were able to develop a comprehensive application that provides all the tools required to implement an asset management program and develop effective asset management plans.

The CUPSS software has four main goals: to assist with communication between utility staff and decision-makers; help move utilities from crisis management to informed decisionmaking; facilitate more efficient and focused utility operations; and improve financial management to make the best use of limited resources. It was designed to help a utility answer five core questions:
• What is the current state of our assets?
• What level of service do our customers require?
• Which assets are critical to sustained performance?
• What are our best capital improvement and O&M strategies? 
• What is our best long-term funding strategy?

Software Highlights
• Customization. CUPSS allows first-time users to enter specific information about their system and its assets, and also provides the option to add specific personnel, their roles, and contact information.
• Scenario planning and forecasting. Users can create contingency plans using a variety of external scenarios, as well as forecast the value and life of the utility components.
• Tracking and maintenance. Users are able to input maintenance activities and operational tasks as well as set up reminders within a calendar format.
• Financial planning. CUPSS enables users to financially track utility operations, utility repairs, and equipment rehabilitation.
• Reporting. CUPSS generates customized reports for each utility, including inventory check-up and financial reports.  A wizard guides users in creating a utility profile, mission and level of service statement, evaluation of asset criticality, O&M strategy, capital improvement plan, and financial management strategy, and produces a customized asset management plan document for the utility.
• Training and user support. At each point where data input is required, a pop-up, step-by-step Flash video tutorial explains what information is being requested, how it will be used, and what format to use.

The CUPSS program and all supporting materials are available for immediate download. For more information on CUPSS, including program downloads and ordering information, see www.epa.gov/cupss. A full list of CUPSS training opportunities is available at www.epa.gov/safewater/cupss/training.html.

Give Asset Management a Try
Small system managers need to develop meaningful asset management to set sustainable user rates, provide preventive maintenance schedules, and develop longer-range capital improvement programs that will result in maximizing service to their customers. Several different free and commercially available asset management software packages are available to help utilities meet these needs. Depending upon the size and scale of the utility, CUPSS can help at least introduce users to asset management, if not serve as the main asset management program.

Asset management is a critical component of minimizing cost and maximizing reliability. The user-friendly nature of CUPSS makes it a great training tool for medium-sized utilities that are new to asset management, in addition to the targeted small water and wastewater systems. The CUPSS program and all supporting materials are available for immediate download.

Stephen Hogye is special assistant to the division director, Laura Gomez is the CUPSS project manager, Jennifer Moller is the former CUPSS project manager, and Steve Clark is an environmental health scientist in the Drinking Water Protection Division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.