Infrastructure Week is a time to appreciate and learn more about the infrastructure all around us. At the Portland Water Bureau, we often refer to ourselves as the invisible utility, as most of our impressive infrastructure such as Dams 1 and 2 are protected within the Bull Run Watershed or buried beneath our feet.
This week, we are pulling back the curtain on our infrastructure that keeps our system safe and reliable.
One important factor in maintaining our infrastructure is planning. The Portland Water Bureau has a strong, decade-long asset management program. We use the wisdom of leading business practices, which has resulted in national recognition. Leaders in our Asset Management group chair the National Asset Management Committee for the American Water Works Association, an association of 50,000 water utilities. The Portland Water Bureau is routinely called upon to share our practices in risk management, business cases and asset management plans.
Asset management involves many business practices to manage assets and meet service level goals, in a cost effective way. These practices help inform us when we need to invest money to maintain, repair, or replace our assets. We take a sophisticated approach to consider operations and maintenance costs throughout the life of the asset. The most advanced approach is considering the triple bottom line analysis of financial, social and environmental costs and benefits.
A part of asset management is understanding the purpose of the asset. We identify our goals (service levels) and consider how the asset supports that goal. We set goals, measure our performance and communicate our results. The Portland Water Bureau is currently proposing a customer survey to ask for feedback about some of our key service levels, such as call holding time, water outages, seismic resilience, online services and automated meters.
Risk management is a huge part of asset management. Certain assets have a very high consequence if they fail. If that asset has a high likelihood that it will fail, we say that asset is a high risk, and we prioritize actions towards risk mitigation. Some of our water pipes that cross under freeways or major rail lines are considered our highest risks. Why? Because a failure of those pipes could take out those roads or lines, compromising safety and resulting in costly interruption of traffic.
We look for opportunities to improve. We continue to make progress on our goals and we look forward to learning from our customers’ priorities. With wise investments and careful planning, we are proud to provide safe and reliable drinking water for generations to come.