Chiavari: Dealing with Aging Water Infrastructure is ?New Normal?

Suzanne Chiavari, New Jersey American Water vice president for engineering, joined New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin and other speakers testifying before the New Jersey Clean Water Council yesterday to provide an overview of the water infrastructure damage from recent storms, including Hurricanes Irene and Sandy, and discuss water system resiliency and planning issues.

?Except in rare instances, our customers do not lose water service during storm events because we build our water storage tanks to act as buffers, and provide standby power for critical facilities, and we build our critical assets above 100-year flood elevations, while adding flood protection for older facilities as needed,? said Chiavari.

Nonetheless, Chiavari told the council that recent weather storms such as Irene and Sandy, combined with the issue of aging water infrastructure are causing the company to review traditional planning and design criteria. ?This new normal has led us to look beyond traditional reliability and emergency planning into a world that needs the speed of recovery and resiliency for much more widespread events,? she said.

Chiavari shared eight key learning points from New Jersey American Water?s experience in Superstorm Sandy related to water system resiliency, which she told the Council needs to be a high priority in the state.

1. A large network of resources improves resiliency: Through parent company American Water?s national network, New Jersey American Water was able to tap into a large quantity of qualified staff, vendor relationships, materials, equipment and contractors.

2. Asset Management Systems are critical for preparedness: ?You need to know what assets you have, where they are located, what is their maintenance history, spare parts inventory and the condition of these assets,? said Chiavari. Systems such as GIS (Geographic Information Systems) and CMMS (computerized maintenance management systems) provide the utility with information at their fingertips instead of having to hunt for records in file drawers or remote storage.

3. Planning and Risk Assessment are also critical for preparedness: ?We have a robust asset management program that starts with comprehensive master planning for each of our systems,? said Chiavari. ?This planning effort looks at our service needs over a 15-25 year horizons.? As a result of the recent storm events, New Jersey American Water is reassessing its planning criteria to enhance its resiliency in future storms.

4. Planning Criteria should be reassessed for changing conditions, and should include multi-utility impacts: ?We restored our water network from Bay Head to Ortley Beach after Sandy. Bur we couldn?t turn the water back on until the sewer systems were ready to take it,? said Chiavari. The flooding of other utilities? sewer lift stations was intense. Additionally, with larger storms, there is a need to expect far more widespread power outages. ?We are reassessing the auxiliary power capacity at each critical facility. Likewise, the difficulty in obtaining diesel fuel and gasoline has caused us to assess the need for a diversity of fuel types for generators at critical facilities,? she said.

5. Communications are critical for all stakeholders: If service levels are impacted or lost, customers deserve to know what is happening and when they can expect service levels to be restored to normal. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter played an important role in reciprocal communications with customers in near real time.

6. Regulators are an important partner in increasing resiliency: The NJ DEP, Board of Public Utilities and Department of Consumer Affairs can best encourage improved resiliency.

7. DEP can support the long-term sustainability of water infrastructure and operations by defining criteria for a resilient utility infrastructure, a reliable fuel network and a more resilient power grid to attract and retain businesses and jobs.

8. State agencies should consider establishing resiliency criteria for grants and loans.

Chiavari?s complete testimony is available at:

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