Secrets Behind the Creation of Infrastructure Awareness – A Call to Action for CWEA Members

by Elaine Connors

Despite the public using infrastructure every moment of every day, from roads to fresh water to waste removal, this important part of the economy is often ignored or taken for granted.  ‘Infra’ means ‘hidden’ or ‘out of sight’ and in many cases vital portions of infrastructure are hidden from public view.

Government on all levels – federal, state, municipal – react to the priorities of those who elect & will re-elect them.

“It is our duty to bring our communities’ and country’s public works infrastructure before those who can do the most to affect change:  the ratepayers and voters.”

“We need to engage the ratepayers. It is their infrastructure. Local governments, Boards of Supervisors and Town Councils all need to be kept informed.  ASCE’s studies have shown that local and regional infrastructure is better cared for when the money stays within the local community.”

Nick Arhontes

Nick Arhontes

Nicholas J. (Nick) Arhontes, P.E. runs a consulting practice focusing on public works and infrastructure. Prior to this he held various positions at the Orange County Sanitation District in Fountain Valley, retiring in March 2016 after over 28 years with OCSD. He is a CWEA, WEF and ASCE member.

“Wastewater collection and treatment, roads, flood control systems and other infrastructure, power grids, water and natural gas pipelines aren’t exciting to most people. The only time they’ll make the news is if something goes wrong with them. We have legions of public servants and private sector service providers dedicating their working lives to making sure things function well. My fellow members of CWEA already know the importance of Infrastructure. They work with it, plan it, maintain and operate it every day.”

How can CWEA members convey the importance of the planning, designing, building, maintaining and renewing of these essential elements?

One way is participating in the creation of an ASCE “Infrastructure Report Card.”  The information contained in an infrastructure report card is used to inform the general public and all levels of government.  Information is always needed to help allocate funding. The Report Card has become an important way water professional communicate with the public about the state of infrastructure.

The Report Card has been featured on NBC Nightly News, 60 Minutes, NPR and thousands of media outlets.

History of the Infrastructure Report Card

In 2001, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) published its first ‘Infrastructure Report Card’, covering the entire nation.

Also in 2001,  ASCE Orange County teamed up with UC Irvine’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, and local practitioners, to gather site specific data and produce a local countywide Infrastructure Report Card.

“Our approach was bottoms up and based on data,” Arhontes says.

In subsequent years updates have been issued for various regions.  The last full report for all of California was issued in 2012.

Arhontes says “It covered a lot of the metro areas but not all of the state. We need to do much better”

In July, 2016,  ASCE’s Orange County (ASCE-OC) members issued a comprehensive update for their region, titled “2016: The State of Orange County’s Infrastructure.”  This is the first update since their last report in 2010.

How The ASCE’s Report Card Gets Made

The ASCE Infrastructure Report Card (ASCE-IRC) is a compilation of information gathered through a survey of infrastructure owners including public works employees.  The survey format was initiated in Orange County in 2001.

According to Arhontes the survey has been streamlined in the years since it was first introduced.  “Months of preparation go into refining the questions to have the survey produce more meaningful information, while making it easier for respondents to participate.”

The recent online survey took between 15-20 minutes to complete, using an ASCE provided survey tool. Data gathering and prep time ranged from about 15–45 minutes.

Arhontes explains “We sent the survey out in the fall of 2015 and asked the survey participants to report on what they saw between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015.  They can tell their site specific story.”

The survey is a self-scoring assessment and covers five key areas of concern:  condition, capacity, operations, resiliency and security.

The information is compiled and presented as a ‘class average’.

Arhontes says, “What we really want to convey is ‘What’s needed to get to Good’, which is a B grade. What it will take to get there or keep them there? We also ask them to provide a dollars-needed estimate over a ten year time frame.”

“An A would be great,” he says, “but generally the ratepayers won’t want to pay for A’s. But B’s are usually affordable.”

In Orange County’s 2016 report, the class average was C+.  Wastewater and Water Supply both  achieved a B grade, but Surface Water Quality was only D+.

Statewide Infrastructure Report Card Initiative 

A California statewide update is being initiated by ASCE for 2018, with information being gathered in 2017. UPDATE:

Arhontes was the Co-Chair of the Wastewater Sector effort for the ASCE-OC update. He sees his fellow members of CWEA playing an important role in the information gathering necessary to create an accurate & comprehensive report for all of California.

CWEA members are a crucial part of this important effort to collaborate with and assist ASCE statewide in 2017.    Members of CWEA know and understand their wastewater related infrastructure.  They work with it every day.  They are in the best position to know its current state and what is needed on an ongoing basis.

As our Call to Action, we need to encourage CWEA members in all Local Sections to assist and collaborate with ASCE, in all parts of the state, for the many County and Regional efforts needed to roll up to the next statewide effort in 2017-18.”

California is a country leader in tracking and reporting on infrastructure.

“The State Water Resources Control Board developed and maintains their California Integrated Water Quality System – CIWQS (database). It is useful in providing info on the wastewater related infrastructure and it’s performance. Other states do not have a resource tool like this. It doesn’t exist at a national level,” Arhontes says.

“Many ASCE members statewide are also CWEA members. It would be good for all CWEA Members to read the O.C. Wastewater Report Card to become more familiar with the effort that goes into creating it.  From there they can  think about methods of collaborating with local ASCE efforts in their Sections on a going forward basis.  This might include inviting ASCE to present and discuss the ASCE IRC effort at their local Section meetings and events.”

Once the Infrastructure Report Card is issued, the ASCE publicizes it in many ways. Newspaper articles are written, members give public speeches at local community and regional board meetings, and other forms of networking including social media are also used.

The ASCE works at local, regional and national levels, including with Congress, to promote infrastructure awareness and needs. Participating in creating an accurate and informative ASCE Infrastructure Report Card benefits everyone.

$26.2 billion in wastewater infrastructure needs over 20 years in California – ASCE 2017 Report Card

The American Society of Civil Engineers released its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, with many segments and sectors of the nation’s infrastructure receiving near-failing grades, including drinking water and wastewater systems. This year’s report card graded drinking water a D and wastewater a D+. The US Water Alliance released the following statement in response:

Radhika Fox, CEO of the US Water Alliance, said: “Water is essential to everything we do. Every community in the country relies on drinking water and wastewater service, and many sectors of our economy are completely reliant on water as well. A D and D+ are daunting grades, but I am optimistic about our future because I see the innovative work of the members of the US Water Alliance every day.”
Fox continued: “I want to thank the ASCE for its steadfast work to shine a light on the incredibly important issue of infrastructure investment. It was a topic that was overlooked for far too long, but we believe is starting to get the attention it deserves. This report reinforces the fact that we need to make reinvesting in water a national priority.”

About the Author

Megan Barillo

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