Department of Environmental Conservation

D E C banner

Sensible Plans for Managing Municipal Infrastructure

Winter 2013 Issue

While talking with a high-level municipal official, I asked him about the community's strategy toward maintaining its clean water infrastructure. He replied, "We fix it when it breaks."

As we all know, that approach to infrastructure pretty much ensures that things will break - with resulting sewage spills, water outages, fines, bad press and the significantly heightened repair costs that come with an emergency response.

Plans to protect and maintain clean water infrastructure are generally referred to as "asset management plans." These plans can be used to facilitate: good financial management as infrastructure components need to be replaced; adequate maintenance to extend the life of infrastructure; energy efficiency improvements over the short and long term; and, storm and sea level rise resiliency upgrades implemented in a rational manner over a period of years.

Asset management plans can serve as a cornerstone of properly functioning wastewater treatment systems. Industry experts, regulators and wastewater operators generally seem to agree that asset management is a good idea. Such plans also allow managers to select which upgrades or repairs are the most important in the face of various statutory or permit requirements - useful information when working through issues with regulators and municipal budget agencies. These plans facilitate security and improved emergency response.

Wastewater infrastructure is the backbone of clean water, yet this infrastructure is often decaying. Because the public does not see it, there often seems to be an unwillingness to make sufficient investments to improve these facilities. Many argue that economic viability and growth depends on a sustainable public service infrastructure, including wastewater treatment. The information gleaned through good asset management programs can help make the case for sensible infrastructure investments.

As you will find out in this issue, asset management is the practice of managing infrastructure capital assets to minimize the total cost of owning and operating them while delivering the desired service levels. This practice incorporates detailed asset inventories, operation and maintenance tasks, and long-range financial planning. It puts clean water systems on the road to sustainability.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has initiated stakeholder efforts to formulate an asset management strategy for municipal wastewater infrastructure. It will be useful to develop a policy that will define the essential elements of a successful asset management plan, as well as a means to effectively implement these plans. The asset management strategy will also review funding options to assist the municipalities.

Asset management is a win-win for the community, the state and the environment. Such plans allow communities to wisely target resources while protecting the environment. Statewide wastewater infrastructure asset management is overdue, and NYSDEC is eager to work with the New York Water Environment Association on making it a reality in New York State.