Smart Project Delivery: How Water Utilities Can Be More Resilient During Supply Chain Disruptions
The U.S. water system is in danger. Communities across the country are being affected by aging and inadequate water infrastructures, with some of the nation’s oldest water and wastewater pipes dating as far back as the 19th century. With many pipes approaching the end of their 50- to 75-year lifespan, breaks are becoming more frequent. New challenges are complicating matters, including water scarcity outpacing population growth, climate-change effects, unsafe potable water containing lead and other contaminants, and natural disasters.
In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports 240,000 water main breaks every year in the United States, costing billions in wasted energy, treated water and all the chemicals invested in producing a water supply compliant with the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act. According to a Utah State University study, a water main breaks every two minutes, and about 6 billion gallons of treated water are lost daily.
President Biden’s infrastructure bill is allocating $55 billion to drinking water, wastewater and stormwater funding to help resolve these issues. However, significant challenges facing water utility infrastructures aren’t limited to the underground. Above and beyond the 12,000 miles of aging pipelines that required replacement in 2020, the water industry is experiencing some serious supply chain disruptions, placing the U.S. water system in a vulnerable position for timely maintenance and adequate levels of service.
According to a recent survey by the American Water Works Association, 72 percent of water utilities are facing difficulties obtaining pipes or other infrastructure components. More than 45 percent report issues with purchases of electronic equipment and chemicals. Many water utilities are struggling to obtain computer chips for their water trucks as well as other vital daily supplies.
Furthermore, between 2016 and 2026, approximately 10.6 percent of water-sector workers will retire or transfer each year and as much as 50 percent of staff will retire between 2026 and 2031.
Amid the obstacles, a reactive crisis has formed: manufacturing and maintenance delays, workforce turnover, investment gaps and supply chain disruptions.
Identifying Risks and Planning Ahead
On a positive note, many are embracing software that can help them navigate through climate change, population growth, lack of funding and unexpected circumstances—such as the global pandemic—that are affecting supply chains.
Some asset-management solutions are well known to water utilities:
• Enterprise Asset Management (EAM) systems—the most-common management software used by utilities—help prioritize and schedule daily operational maintenance activities.
• Asset Performance Management (APM) solutions are further along in the analytical scale, using data from a variety of sources to identify, predict and manage maintenance.
• Asset Investment Planning (AIP) solutions can help water utilities proactively anticipate and prioritize risks, costs and levels of service amid aging infrastructure issues and supply chain bottlenecks. It’s the most forward-looking, predictive analytics solution to help assess and address the impact of long-term issues such as delayed supply chains. AIP solutions are designed for contingencies, analyzing eventual risks, uncertainties and constraints. They help utilities balance supplies, resources, levels of service, costs and associated risks as the assets evolve in their lifecycle and probable contingencies. AIP helps utilities direct their investments in a sustainable and strategic way by leveraging asset lifecycle simulations and assessing a range of possible outcomes.
With the proper tools, companies can plan and provide for future supply chain contingencies, optimize their workforce and save money.
Looking at Supply and Demand Trends
Water utility companies need to have an accurate estimate on how long parts and supplies last to ensure readiness. What previously took utilities three to six months to complete now is taking years because of low product stock, high demand and long delays in shipping. Planning timeframes will need to adjust, and the need for material to support replacements, repairs, maintenance and construction will all increase as infrastructure ages. Decision-makers will need to be mindful of this new reality and plan for it directly and indirectly with their partner ecosystems.
AIP solutions look at data trends to help water utility companies identify and plan for how long their assets will last. Possible risks such as additional breakage, climate change and cost increases also can be factored through simulations. Water utilities then can anticipate supply chain disruptions and plan to repair parts ahead of time.
Testing Your Strategies
So how can water utilities know their strategies are future proof? Through testing and analysis, companies can eliminate doubt and plan around contingencies. Using what-if analysis, decision-makers can base their purchase schedules on required levels of service as well as shifting delivery schedules or availability. “What-if” scenario analysis offers utilities the ability to anticipate, plan around unexpected situations and work with OEMs to ensure they have the necessary supplies.
Supply chain disruptions will continue to pose challenges to the industry. With water being a vital commodity, it’s imperative utility companies adopt new solutions and resources for long-term planning and investment. Predictive analytics will help water utilities make sustainable and strategic decisions now and for years to come.