Channel Islands Beach Community Services District (District) provides water, sanitation, and garbage collection services to approximately 10,000 people in the Channel Islands Harbor area. The community’s infrastructure was laid in the 1960s so much of it is nearing the end of its life expectancy.
Roughly 80% of the District’s water comes from local groundwater sources and about 20% is brought in through the Metropolitan Water District, which is helpful in times of drought, but more costly. Ensuring the water distribution system is in optimal working order minimizes water loss and helps with water conservation efforts to keep rates low for residents.
Pre-pandemic, the District recognized the need to improve its asset management and move away from paper “fix it” notes, to an actual software program that accounted for all assets in one platform and had the capability of managing day-to-day operations. Knowing the condition of all assets in real time, would enable the District to better address urgent needs, plan for regular maintenance and forecast replacement projects.
Choosing the right solution
Peter Martinez, the General Manager for Channel Islands Beach Community Services District, oversees a staff of eight people. Martinez said, “For a small office like ours, we need to be as efficient as possible. If we can automate reports and schedule and track field work while sharing information in real time, we can get more done. Like any utility, we also need data to make the best decisions for infrastructure upgrades and replacement, and that’s hard to gather from paper records.
There’s a lot to address when it comes to aging infrastructure and it was clear we needed a good operational management program to help us prioritize maintenance and spending to best serve our ratepayers.”The District chose Sedaru, a utility operational management platform by Aquatic Informatics. Jesus Navarro, Operations Manager with the District said, “Today people use intuitive software in their daily life, so if it feels like you need to be a software engineer to operate an office program, it’s going to be very hard to get staff on board. We chose Sedaru because it is easy for everyone to use, and the benefits are clear to see. Staff buy-in is crucial to a successful software deployment so we set up lunch and learns that allowed people to play around with it and ask questions. This was very successful.”
“A picture can be worth a thousand words. When you look at a photograph, you can often make better sense of what was done.”
Integration with existing software
Today the District runs several asset management programs through the platform, including hydrants, water sampling stations, pipes, valves, lift stations, smart meters and more. When the fire hydrant maintenance program was first input into the platform, it identified a few hydrants as inoperable. With this knowledge, the District was able to prioritize and replace the hydrants in-house.
Now if a customer calls to complain about their water pressure, the front office staff simply click on the nearest hydrant and read the static pressure to determine if the problem is on the distribution line and needs to be checked out, or if it is a resident issue.
“If a customer calls with a water quality concern, our front office staff can click on the nearest sample station and give the latest results. Tracking of this information also makes regulatory reporting much more efficient, and with customizable dashboards and selection criteria it is easier to identify areas that need changes in treatment regimens or flushing,” said Martinez.
Prior to the new platform, there was no valve maintenance program. For the most part, valves are neatly tucked away and can continue to work uninterrupted for years if not decades, until something goes wrong. Most valve checks at the District were done according to staff knowledge based on years of experience. Now the District connects Sedaru directly to its Wachs valve exercising machine and the work is automatically uploaded as it is performed.
Using Data to Advocate for Critical Change
“These tools working together eliminate operator error. We now have accurate organized data that makes it possible to generate reports with a couple of clicks and easily identify faulty valves for replacement. We have taken this data, and now have a board-approved valve replacement program, which would have been very hard to justify without knowing what we now know.”
As the District moved to smart meters, field crews were able to complete the changeout work orders, input new serial information to be used for billing and add any specifics for future servicing. If a communication node stops working, Navarro can dispatch a work order to a field crew in the area to replace the node. By using a connected mobile device field crews have all the information at their fingertips and can complete the work order in the field and move on to the next task without going back to the office to complete paperwork or pick up the next job.
“As time went on, we wanted to have the ability to have a “follow up” feature as some meter work requires customer service staff to make other changes. For instance, if a house is knocked down and a new rebuild takes place, the resident may request a larger water service line, which then requires a different meter. These meters tend to be closer to the curb, which can lead to cars parking on top of the meters, so we need to make further adjustments. The Sedaru staff were able to add a “follow up” feature quite easily and are very supportive in customizing features to improve workflow,” said Navarro.
“The days of being subjective and shooting from the hip are over. The new platform has changed us from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. In another 10 months or so, we’ll have a baseline of data to be able to set clear goals and measure performance.”
Impressive technology adoption by the whole team
Today field crews can look at Sedaru and see the whole day’s work ahead. They can take the right tools and people to get the job done. If a new work order gets placed in priority, they can instantly see it and go straight to the site. Prior to this crews would come all the way back to the office once they completed a task. “Being a small community, we really value quick response times and our residents expect that high level of service, so anything we can do to improve efficiency makes everyone happier, especially the staff,” said Martinez.
The District is already in the midst of addressing the aging workforce with Martinez and Navarro both new hires within the last four years. Moving from paper to digital has meant that the District is in a new phase of capturing information. In the last two years of deploying the new platform, the District has gathered a wealth of information that will be easily transferable to new hires. Martinez will be able to show the enormous amount of work that is done daily and the positive impact that is realized by this small community that now has its finger on the pulse of every piece of infrastructure.
Martinez said, “The days of being subjective and shooting from the hip are over. The new platform has changed us from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. In another 10 months or so, we’ll have a baseline of data to be able to set clear goals and measure performance.”