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Paschke: Asset Management Needed to Strengthen U.S. Wastewater Infrastructure

Nearly 240 million Americans—three-quarters of the total population–rely on the nation’s 14,748 wastewater treatment plants to protect public health and the environment. Last week, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) released its 2017 Infrastructure Report card, giving the country’s overall infrastructure and wastewater infrastructure a D+.

Learn about wastewater from Engineering Professional Development at UW-Madison!The country’s overall grade has remained unchanged since the last report in 2013, while wastewater has slightly improved from a D in 2013.

In the next 20 years, ASCE expects that 56 million new users will be connected to central treatment systems and an additional investment of $271 billion will be needed in wastewater infrastructure–$6.33 billion in Wisconsin alone. ASCE estimates that 532 new systems will be needed by 2032 to meet the demand.

“As America’s infrastructure continues to age, it’s increasingly important for system managers to have a transparent system to prioritize expensive long-term replacement and upgrade projects,” says Ned Paschke, PE, UW-Madison Engineering Professional Development program director.

This approach, otherwise known as asset management, provides an assessment of the system’s level of service, and an estimate of the likelihood of failure and the consequences of failure for the key components.

“This helps the utility or municipality to prioritize short and long-term capital replacements and upgrades,” he said, “and to strengthen their operations as well.”

Paschke, who leads a nationally known series of water and wastewater continuing education courses at UW-Madison, says it’s financially impossible to replace or upgrade an entire system at one time, due to the vast scale and replacement value of water and wastewater systems, which were built up over many decades.

Major expansions of urban areas in the U.S. took place in the latter half of the 20th century. New treatment plants, new water mains, and expanded sewer systems were constructed to serve the expanding cities and suburbs, and to meet new environmental and water quality regulations. With the passing of the decades, however, a growing share of these “new” facilities are becoming older, and need to be replaced or repaired for the first time.

Most wastewater infrastructure spending occurs at the municipal or regional level. It is estimated that local governments and utilities in the US spend $20 billion a year on capital sewer expenditures and $30 billion annually on O&M. The U.S. federal government has provided $1.4 billion the past five years to the states through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund programs. The states in turn have provided $5.8 billion per year in financial assistance to eligible recipients, primarily as discounted loans.

To raise the grade, ASCE recommends more funding for wastewater, raising awareness of the true cost and value of water and wastewater treatment, and supporting green infrastructure.

To address the many challenges and opportunities developing in the wastewater industry, UW-Madison recently launched a new Certificate in Water Reclamation. The certificate program is built on UW-Madison’s nationally known continuing education program in water and wastewater engineering and management. It is designed to help professionals evaluate the latest technologies and processes, improve their systems and facilities, and gain a blended knowledge of engineering, operations, regulations, technology, and business practices in this critical industry.

 

 

 

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