Water Online Radio: Smart Solutions For Water Distribution
Cliff Wilson, president of Wachs Water Services, talks about the technology and services available to help overcome the water industry’s trillion-dollar infrastructure challenge.
Todd Schnick: We’re coming to you live from Dallas, Texas. This is day three of AWWA ACE 2012 and Water Online Radio. I’m your host, Todd Schnick, joined by my colleague, Todd Youngblood. Todd, this just gets better and better.
Todd Youngblood: And the crowd keeps getting better and better. I thought the traffic would start petering out and people would start running out to the bars, but the stuff in here is more interesting than the beer, I suppose.
Todd Schnick: I have no doubt that the crowd is building because of our next guest. I’m excited to welcome Cliff Wilson, who is the president of Wachs Water Services, welcome to the show Cliff.
Cliff Wilson: Hey, thanks for having me. I’m glad to be here.
Todd Schnick: We’re thrilled to have you, Cliff. Before you get into it, do take a quick second and tell us about you and your background.
Cliff Wilson: Sure. Wachs Water Services, I’ve been in this business for over 14 years and Wachs Water Services is a focused company, been around since 1883, the family of companies, been making equipment and now we focus on services on water distribution and transmission, and it’s all about gaining control, increasing the control of our water systems.
Todd Schnick: Cliff, let’s get started by talking about the trends. Let’s look down on the water industry as a whole. What do see as the big trends coming down the pike in three to five years?
Cliff Wilson: Clearly, the biggest trend we see is, for example, the AWWA report that just came out that talks about we need to invest a trillion dollars in the next 25 years just to replace our underground infrastructure.
That is a huge demand that’s put on all of our industries, all of our utilities in the United States, and that replacement wave is really driving two primary trends from my perspective.
One, we can’t replace the old, aging pipe fast enough in the United States but what we can do is we can gain control of our systems through making sure we have valves that work, on and off switches for water systems that work, and the right, accurate, meaningful information so we can manage these aging infrastructures.
So the first overarching trend is the aging distribution systems and the underlying trends are gaining control of those systems and doing condition assessment on pipelines themselves – so you can narrow down and only repair what needs to be repaired just in time.
Todd Schnick: Cliff, let me take you just a little bit deeper on that. I mean, I get the aging infrastructure, the trillion dollar investment needed, and the gain control thing makes perfect sense, but if I’ve got a half-mile of leaky pipe, what does the control thing do for me in that kind of situation?
Cliff Wilson: Well, you may have a half a mile of leaky pipe, but when we have controls, valves were put in with these water systems 50 years ago, 70 years ago, and 25 years ago. Valves were put in to control the delivery aspects to control the pipes.
One of the challenges is, Todd, that we didn’t need the valves 20 years ago. We didn’t need the valves 50 years ago, because the pipes were fine.
Now the pipes aren’t fine; the pipes are failing. So you could have a half of mile of leaky pipe, but if your valves work, if your control point’s work, that half a mile may not be a half of mile, it may only be a thousand feet. It may be a much smaller section, Todd, and then we’d go in and repair that small section, rather than a half of mile or five miles of pipeline.
Todd Schnick: Cliff, GIS, why is that so important to the water distribution system?
Cliff Wilson: I think, Todd, it gets back to control. When I talk about control, again, it’s using valves and it’s not just having the valve asset that works, but you got to have the valve asset you can find, you can get on, and you can operate. But that only is helpful if you’ve got accurate information on it, Todd – accurate, meaningful, and usable information – and that’s where GIS is really the tool.
We used GIS as an elegant mapping tool in our industry for years and years, but really where it’s moving now is bringing that information down into the hands of the people who operate the systems so that they can operate more efficiently; and instead of having a half of mile of leaky pipe, actually understand that they got control and they can isolate that down to a smaller area, respond more quickly, have less disruption and less damage.
Todd Youngblood: I’m an old IT guy, Cliff, and so I appreciate the beauty of an elegant system as you put it, and I really do appreciate it. I mean, it’s important to have those kinds of things, but I blow away the smoke at the end of the day and I care about the dollars and the cents. Talk a little bit about the financial impact, the thousand feet of leaky pipe as opposed to the half mile.
Cliff Wilson: Sure. The control aspect, the financial impact, Todd, it all comes down to time and physical space. What do I mean by that? If we have a main break and if I can isolate that in a short period of time, I’m losing less water, there’s less traffic disruption, there is less collateral damage – if I can do that in a short shut with, for example, three valves. But if my valves don’t work, which is normal in the United States…
Only about 60% of the valves can be used for a shutdown in a short-term need. So instead of a three-valve shutdown, now woo this third valve didn’t work.
My teams are spending additional time moving out shutting down additional valves, additional customers go out, more water spilled on the street, more traffic disruption, more collateral damage – and that’s where the savings come in, Todd.
Todd Youngblood: Talk more on the capital side. I mean, it makes perfect sense exactly what you are saying from an expense control standpoint. How about on the capital investment side?
Cliff Wilson: I think the control, that’s a fascinating thing to me because control has a real impact, not only on the operations and maintenance savings, which is just what we talked about – the collateral damage, traffic, business disruption – but the capital side. It’s got two big factors to it.
If I got better control of my systems so I can look at it in smaller segments of pipe, I can reduce my capital spend and instead of placing two thousand feet of pipe; I might only need to replace one thousand feet, and that narrows it down and that reduces my capital spend.
And if I have better control through my valving systems – again, that’s what I’m talking about here today – then I can reduce the risk of my system and I may be able to defer some capital investments. So it has a short-term operations and maintenance savings, and a capital bang at the end as well.
Todd Youngblood: Cliff, I see that you’re presenting here at ACE12. What subject are you presenting on?
Cliff Wilson: I’m actually presenting on reducing the cost of failure. So we have more and more increasing failures here in the United States, because our systems are aging and one of the biggest levers to reduce the cost of filler in the short term – in the long term you can replace those pipes, those delivery assets, billions of dollars – in the short term, it’s control.
Todd Schnick: Cliff, I hate to say it but we are out of time. Before we let you go, how can people get in touch with you and, more importantly, where can they learn about the good works of Wachs Water Services?
Todd Schnick: Outstanding, Cliff Wilson, president of Wachs Water Services. It was great to have you. Thank you so much for joining us today.
Cliff Wilson: Thanks, fellas, I appreciate it.
Todd Schnick: Alright. Well, that wraps this segment. On behalf of our guest Cliff Wilson, my cohost Todd Youngblood, all of us here at Water Online, I’m Todd Schnick. We’ll be right back with our next guest.