Guest Column | September 2, 2016

Kansas City's Billion-Dollar Smart Infrastructure Challenge

Jennifer Rusch

By Jennifer Rusch

Zinc-coated, SMaRT-certified ductile iron pipe

Missouri’s largest city is betting that the next generation of water distribution pipelines — smarter, stronger, and highly sustainable — is well worth the investment.

In 1838 the city of Kansas City, MO, was born within the heart of the nation. Deemed the crossroads of the world, Kansas City’s legacy of innovation began with a smart grid of water and wastewater infrastructure systems designed to withstand the gritty nature of the times ahead.

Nearly 150 years later, some of Kansas City’s original infrastructure still serves the city’s modern pioneers. Kansas City is now the most connected “smart city” in the world, thanks to a network of strategic data, technology, and transportation investments along a 2.2-mile corridor in the heart of downtown — not far from the city’s original foundation along the banks of the Missouri River. Underneath Kansas City’s Smart City corridor lies a national innovation — miles of water infrastructure that is strategically selected and managed through the use of over 150 years of water-main data.

2012 was a pivotal year for Kansas City. Extreme drought conditions during the summer months resulted in a record number of water main breaks, which emphasized the city’s need to replace aging water infrastructure. That same year, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) issued a staggering report, highlighting a $1-trillion need to address the nation’s critically aging water infrastructure. There was no question that Kansas City, along with other cities across the nation, was being challenged to address a backlog of aging water mains. Ready to rise to the challenge, city leaders sought a strategic and data-driven solution for residents.

“Kansas City is committed to investing in innovative solutions to meet exceptional challenges,” said City Manager Troy Schulte. “In 2012, the need to invest in the city’s water system was critical, but rate fatigue for residents was a serious concern. Strategic use of data led to the development of the city’s first water main replacement program and one of the first examples of Kansas City’s transformation toward leading Smart City initiatives.”

Pipe Performance: Past, Present, And Future
Using as-built information dating back to 1870, KC Water Services’ Chief Engineering Officer Andy Shively and his team cataloged the age, pipeline material, and break history of each pipe segment. The city then ran a business risk assessment to determine which segments of pipe were most likely to break and, most importantly, which of those aging pipe segments would have the greatest impact on the city’s public health and transportation networks. The program provides added value by matching the 100-year asset life of the product.

Kansas City’s 100-year water main replacement program replaces 1 percent of the city’s water infrastructure with ductile iron pipe, and specifications include the use of zinc coating. The product and the city’s water main replacement program are strategically designed to address the city’s water infrastructure challenge in a way that delivers the highest return on investment.

Andy Shively, chief engineering officer at City of Kansas City, MO

“Kansas City is a model of innovation and sustainability,” says Gregg Horn, VP of technical services for the Ductile Iron Pipe Research Association (DIPRA). “Andy is the first person I am aware of in the United States to specify zinc coating for ductile iron pipe. This type of innovation works to extend the service life of an already superior and sustainable product by successfully addressing the pipe’s number-one enemy — corrosion.”

The ductile iron pipe selected by the city of Kansas City has a 100-year lifespan. By specifying the use of zinc coating on the pipe, Kansas City hopes to extend the useful life of the infrastructure well beyond a century. Four years into the program, Kansas City is already realizing the value of the citywide investment through a record low number of water main breaks.

"By specifying the use of zinc coating on the pipe, Kansas City hopes to extend the useful life of the infrastructure well beyond a century."

“Andy is one of a few visionary leaders in the industry. From the beginning, he insisted that Kansas City would not sacrifice the future for a shortcut today,” said Tom Crawford, VP and general manager for McWane Ductile Ohio. “Kansas City has a 100-year vision that leverages every cent invested to eliminate infrastructure burdens for future generations.”

Sustainable = SMaRT
Kansas City’s water infrastructure investment is not only strategic — it is also literally SMaRT. The city’s 100- year water main replacement program uses only SMaRTcertified ductile iron pipe. In 2012, the Institute for Market Transformation to Sustainability awarded the ductile iron pipe industry with certification as a gold-rated SMaRT product. The certification was based on a number of factors, but most notably because the pipe’s material is made from 98 percent recycled material, and the manufactured ductile iron pipe itself is recyclable. Ductile iron pipe is one of only two products in the buried infrastructure industry to achieve this certification.

“Ductile iron pipe earned especially high marks for recycled content, exceedingly long life, and for the industry’s commitment to conserving energy and controlling emissions,” said Horn. “The pipe has added value because it takes considerably less energy to pump water through the larger inside diameter and smooth interior lining of ductile iron pipe.”

SMaRT certification for the product has enabled the ductile iron pipe industry to quantify its impact on the environment. Since 2012, Kansas City has installed 120 miles of SMaRTcertified ductile iron pipe or the equivalent of 6,500 recycled vehicles. According to calculations published by the U.S. EPA, the energy savings made by this investment are equivalent to the electrical consumption of 4,579 homes for an entire year.

“Sustainability is the implementation of smart solutions that transcend generations,” said Shively. “Our analysis shows that the age and material of a pipe segment critically impact the lifespan of the pipe. The product that we install today matters. Making smart decisions today will protect future generations from paying for existing infrastructure challenges.”

The Billion-Dollar Challenge
This year, Shively publicly issued and took on a $1-billion challenge. His charge is to find and implement strategic and sustainable solutions which will provide $1 billion in savings over the next 10 years.

“Kansas City is investing $1.78 billion in water and sewer infrastructure over the next five years. It is critical that we make the most of this investment,” said Shively. “We now have more data and more technology than ever before, and I believe the engineers of today have a responsibility to leverage those resources and avoid past mistakes. My billion-dollar challenge is a promise to Kansas City, and it is a call to the stewards of our system to bring forward the innovative and strategic solutions necessary to save our residents $1 billion.”

In Kansas City, the $1-billion challenge is already gaining momentum. In order to accept the challenge, professionals must provide sustainable solutions that have an immediate cost savings and that also have a long asset life.

“Kansas City has already taken the $1-billion challenge,” states Shively. “I encourage 999 other cities across the nation to join the challenge, so that we can eliminate $1 trillion in debt for the infrastructure investment facing our nation today. This crisis will only be remedied through the commitment of every public servant across the nation to find long-term solutions, not short-term remedies.”

For more information on Kansas City’s water main replacement program, visit

About The Author
Jennifer Rusch is a strategic marketing professional at Burns & McDonnell, specializing in communicating complex infrastructure programs in relatable and understandable ways. She lives and works in Kansas City, MO.