How the US infrastructure bill impacts the water sector

Autodesk
Autodesk October 28, 2021 4 min read

Since the Clean Water Act/Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, the federal government has actively supported wet infrastructure investment through various means, including the recently passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). This new bill, and its section 914, centers on authorizing and creating programs to support drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects.

The IIJA requires and incentivizes utilities to better assess and replace lead pipes within their networks. By developing and submitting a plan for improving their utility networks, the budget used, and how it will be used to support the community, utilities are better equipped to receive funding. With the right combination of accessible database solutions, GIS information, historic data, informed logic, and clever software, utilities can provide strategic plans to submit to permitting stakeholders, including federal and local agencies, which can clearly demonstrate how lead lines can be identified and replaced, as well as how much it should cost.

Additionally, the replacement of lead service lines can be combined with other right-of-way infrastructure initiatives that reach other areas the bill is designed to fund. Ninety-five years ago, lead service lines were state-of-the-art engineering. Before World War II, many contractors and plumbers used lead service lines due to their durability and flexibility. Therefore, if a home was built after the 1970s, chances are newer materials such as copper, galvanized steel, PVC, or PEX were used. However, after multiple lead crises such as Flint, MI and others, we know all too well how catastrophic these lead service lines can be to the health of people and the communities in which they live. It is imperative that we improve and address our water infrastructure systems’ health and environmental factors.

Sustainability, Resiliency, Affordability

The proposed IIJA provides a great opportunity for water utilities to dramatically improve a community’s wet infrastructure by using innovative digital solutions to provide informed justification for federal, state, and local funding and financing.

Innovyze has developed advanced digital asset management solutions that will allow any utility to address water affordability challenges with objective accountability and transparency. The hydraulically aware asset performance and risk modeling solutions from Innovyze will:

Justifying Grants and Loans

Here are some main points to consider when building for a successful grant application:

Innovative technology solutions can not only leverage the Infrastructure Bill to affect change in lead pipes, but use lead pipe replacement work as a reason to lift entire communities (roads, utilities, sidewalks, etc.).

Areas with lead pipes are typically older. Therefore, there are likely other regional infrastructure improvements to make and apply for with the different grants funded by the bill. This increases infrastructure equity within less developed or struggling areas within a utility. Using advanced software solutions can help organize individual assets into grouped projects based on O&M and/or capital cost centers.

“When there are more projects than funding, tackling the highest risk projects that include remediating lead service lines can be justified to all stakeholders.”

David Totman, VP of Asset Management at Innovyze

From a pure financial perspective, more advanced Life Cycle Cost Analysis (LCCA) can be executed to determine the optimal timing of when to stop spending O&M dollars for maintenance and pull the trigger on capital funds for full rehabilitation or replacement.

Prioritize, Inspect and Replace

Hydraulic modeling can help in assessing the risks associated with lead service lines and prioritize what needs to be inspected and/or replaced.

GIS is the key to preparing the data for analysis. Multiple case studies from Esri exist on utilities that have created Lead Service Line databases through internal records and volunteered public input/self-reporting. Without confirmation of specific service line materials, cadastre records and/or original Certificates of Occupancy could be used to approximate the probability of the existence of lead service lines based on temporal local construction standards.

Once a lead service line registry has been created, prioritizing how to work through the registry can occur. Information critical to prioritizing, inspection, and ultimately replacing the created lead service line registry may include:

By including a diverse but critical set of data, holistic decisions for how to best fund the elimination of lead service lines can occur. KPIs may be developed and easily tracked to ensure the reduction of the lead service line registry is transparent and equitable to all stakeholders.

An Opportunity to Serve the Community

Utilities can use the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to transform their communities more holistically by using intelligent software solutions, widely available databases, and informed decisions. Innovative software technologies are available to help utilities justify expensive infrastructure repairs and make the most of additional funding resources. With the right combination of people, planning, data, and software to make it all come together, utilities and engineers have abundant opportunities to better serve their communities.

o deeper and learn how software solutions and the infrastructure bill intersect in our recent Water Talk.