Water Master Plans

By Heather Jennings, PE

When I worked with engineering firms, there were a lot of water master plans being developed. Many of them were updates, as the plans had been around for 5–10 years and needed revision. Some master plans evaluated water and wastewater systems from scratch. All of these were interesting to me due to the wide array of information that had to be gathered and brought into one document. In other words, “one document to rule them all”—if you don’t mind a modified quote from fantasy fiction.

From the ground up, this effort entails working with “as-built” documentation (documentation of the completed final construction outcomes, compared with the original construction plans) of lines and system assets, possibly even performing an audit of the water system assets. System audits require someone to go out into the field to compare as-builts documentation with existing assets, reading faded pump numbers, and finding out what in the world happened to the old “valving” system. Sometimes it requires sending out a team to video the conditions of the major distribution lines. Simply put, it takes a lot of time and a lot of investigation with the operators to understand the existing system assets and their status.

Sometimes these data are pulled into a GIS format that allows the system owner and engineers to evaluate whole systems at a time. From this, a model can be developed for the larger portions of the system. All of these data allow for better system analysis.

Asset analysis helps to identify pressing water infrastructure needs. Benefits of this analysis include identifying what lengths of piping need to be rehabbed immediately and what can wait for a few years. It allows predictions of asset aging and forecasting of future costs to address the aging infrastructure. It consolidates and prioritizes opportunities and allows time to capitalize on smart alternatives that support future initiatives. Such detailed information can save owners thousands if not millions of dollars in costs that can arise from poorly developed designs.

Analyzing for future environmental impacts can be completed as well. There’s nothing worse than to find out that your capital improvements cross into lands reserved for endangered species after the trenches have been dug! As Benjamin Franklin once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

Finally, developing a master plan can also help with development of capital improvement plans and capital works procurement strategies. These plans can include budgets and financing programs for capital investments that focus on capital, operation, and maintenance costs. The plan should also include how to generate an affordable revenue stream via user fees, etc.

In summary, from the beginning a lot of work goes into developing water master plans but, in the end, it provides high-level as well as detailed information on water systems. It identifies aging infrastructure as well as makes timeline recommendations for asset repair or necessary capital improvements. It allows owners to develop financial and procurement plans as well as identify environmental impacts that bring their own costs. Now, that’s a document worth spending money on!

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