Asset Management: Criticality and Risk Analysis

desert

Mojave Water Agency Optimizes Maintenance Activities, Realizes Cost Savings

| By Tacoma Zach

The Mojave Water Agency (MWA) is responsible for ensuring a stable and sustainable water supply for the High Desert region in San Bernardino County. Its projects cover a service area of approximately 4,900 square miles and include facilities for delivering and storing water from the State Water Project. These facilities, such as the Morongo Basin Pipeline, the Mojave River Pipeline, the Oro Grande Wash Pipeline, and the recharge basins, help meet the region’s water needs.

Mentor APM

The MWA was established in 1960 because of growing concern about groundwater overdraft, where more groundwater is used each year than is replaced by nature through rain and snowmelt. The MWA entered into an agreement with the California Department of Water Resources, making them one of 29 contractors able to import water from the California Aqueduct when necessary. Today, the MWA is entitled to almost 90,000 acre-feet of water annually, ensuring the region can recharge groundwater supplies as needed. Local water companies and well owners can use this groundwater for domestic, recreational, agricultural, and industrial purposes.

The Challenge

Amid a decrease in water supply and reliability, the MWA, like many water agencies, has seen a rise in costs and operational challenges related to regional expansion, increased regulatory requirements, climate change, and aging infrastructures. Despite these challenges, the MWA remains committed to managing groundwater basins sustainably, importing water responsibly, and proactively addressing risks using sound scientific practices.

One area of concern was the MWA’s aging infrastructure, and the agency wanted to mitigate the
financial and service-related risks it posed. The MWA had long relied on spreadsheets and the institutional knowledge of long-term staff to guide and optimize its maintenance strategy. They required a more modern, data-driven approach to support their decision-making.

“We wanted to get ahead of maintenance and prevent future failures related to our aging infrastructure,” said Mike Simpson, director of operations at the Mojave Water Agency. “We knew that having a plan, one based on data, would reduce unscheduled outages, ease the burden on our small staff, and allow us to run our maintenance activities more efficiently and cost-effectively.”

The MWA decided to implement an infrastructure asset management program that would give them a complete picture of all their assets and enable them to prioritize and address high-risk areas to increase the lifespan of their assets, save money, and prevent system failures.

“Our goal was to understand our most critical assets better so that we could set the right priorities for maintenance and capital investment in line with our business model and mission,” says Simpson.

The Solution

In 2022, the MWA began developing its infrastructure asset management program. They were looking for an experienced partner who could help identify and set the right priorities for their maintenance and capital plans. MentorAPM offers a unique utility-based asset management approach that begins with a criticality and risk assessment, saving time and money by focusing resources on the most critical assets and those posing the most significant risk to the agency’s mission and values.

The analysis involved the two teams coming together to identify all the MWA’s assets and assign a criticality rating based on the impact of a functional failure across a comprehensive list of categories. The categories were based on the agency’s chartered minimum Level of Service, existing service agreements, and MWA-stated values: staff safety, public safety, environmental care, regulatory compliance, operational performance, and public relations. The analysis was grounded in historical data regarding failure rates and considered previous maintenance practices and cultural factors. Within a few weeks, the MentorAPM team, using the Criticality Analyzer module from its asset management software, captured 100% of the MWA’s asset portfolio, providing a comprehensive and accurate ranking of criticality and risk based on a multi-scenario use of historical data.

“MentorAPM helped facilitate the right discussions with our staff and learned as much as they could about how we perform daily tasks. We had multiple, in-depth discussions about the level of service we should aim for and how to balance the maintenance cost and historical failure rates against the possibility of service failures. We also considered local conditions to make informed decisions about criticality and risk,” says Simpson.

Simpson noted that MentorAPM’s iterative approach was tailored to their circumstances. For example, with a service area spanning nearly 5,000 square miles, pipelines naturally run in different directions. The composition of the soil, and its chemistry, can change significantly across the region, affecting how quickly or slowly the infrastructure degrades.

“Other consultants might suggest automatically replacing a particular pipe after a certain time period. However, many factors degrade a pipe. We have a lot of expensive equipment, including large diameter pipelines with up to 300 PSI and 600 Hp pumps and motors. When assigning criticality, we needed to consider everything from bolting, vibrations, and water quality to maintenance history and failure rates. The MentorAPM team had field and operational expertise to help us carefully consider all these factors.”

The criticality and risk rankings offered new insight into the MWA’s infrastructure. The rankings helped the MWA pinpoint the critical assets that require continuous monitoring, while the risk rankings determined the priority for capital investment for assets that pose risks to the level of service.

“We didn’t always have the risk we were assuming. In some cases, we had plenty of backup, or an asset wasn’t as critical as we thought. In other cases, we needed to look at an asset more closely. The criticality analysis helped us identify where resources should be allocated to minimize potential risks and where we could save money on unnecessary expenses,” says Simpson.

The analysis helped us determine the most essential repairs or replacements so we could address them immediately. Some of these projects were not on our radar.

The Results

The MWA now has criticality rankings to help plan monitoring and maintenance strategies as well as target the condition assessment work on the most critical assets first. Assets with the highest risks will receive priority for risk mitigation investments, such as replacements or refurbishments. As a result of the assessment, the MWA has identified nine projects that will be carried out over the next several months, costing $3.2 million. Six of these projects will have the greatest impact on risk reduction and only require 12% of the total budget. The MWA also discovered that some projects identified before the assessment had a minimal effect on reducing risk.

“The analysis helped us determine the most essential repairs or replacements so we could address them immediately. Some of these projects were not on our radar. What’s exciting is that we can estimate the cost of a repair, the time it will take to make that repair, and the savings we will achieve because of it,” says Simpson, who notes that the cost savings can be redirected to additional maintenance issues or new capital investments. In addition, the condition assessment work will not be required on the entire asset portfolio and will be targeted to where it will generate the biggest return on investment.

The criticality and risk assessment has also improved the MWA’s long-term planning. Simpson says, “We’re able to see how making improvements and reducing risks today will affect our operations and budget year after year. We can formulate a game plan in a way that wasn’t possible before.”

The MWA is progressing toward making its maintenance processes more efficient and effective. The approach they’ve developed with MentorAPM will ensure that resources are allocated to the right priorities and not wasted on unnecessary expenses. The insight and visibility will help them carry out various initiatives, including scheduling inspections, predicting maintenance requirements, planning capital investments, and forecasting finances.

According to Simpson, the criticality analysis and risk assessment have provided valuable insights into their operations. The work has given them a clear direction, identified risks, prioritized critical assets, and reduced waste by focusing on essential activities.


Tacoma Zach, P.Eng, MASc ChemE, is co-founder and CEO of MentorAPM. He is an expert on the application of asset management best practices, risk management and ISO 55000 standards to utilities. He has spent most of his career in the operation and management of both municipal and industrial water/wastewater operations.

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