When what you don’t know can hurt you

January 8th, 2019

Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “What you don’t know can kill you.” The same is true when it comes to managing a water and sewer system. If you don’t know what you have and what condition it’s in, how do you expect to manage it from both a financial and operational standpoint? The answer is asset management.


The Town of Fair Bluff manages a wastewater system encompassing six pump stations, over 54,000 LF of sewer gravity mains and over 38,000 LF of force mains. However, due to several circumstances including Hurricane Matthew in 2016, they lacked a centralized management program, inventory of system components, or even a complete system map. As a result, the town could not effectively prioritize critically needed system improvements. The condition of the collection system was a primary concern. Most of the system was built in 1939, and inflow and infiltration (I/I) within these lines was problematic. While previous studies identified some of the most probable sources of I/I, the town still had issues during rain events. This translates into a financial burden because they were not treating their own wastewater and were having to pay for treatment based on total flow. Even with some of the highest sewer rates in North Carolina, the town did not have enough revenue to cover both the treatment costs and the general operation and maintenance expenses of the collection system. Further identification of I/I sources was a primary goal.

Patient Assessment

Applying for and receiving a $150,000 Asset Inventory and Assessment Grant from the NCDEQ - Division of Water Infrastructure was the starting point. This grant was awarded just after Hurricane Matthew devastated Fair Bluff, and all parties knew this project would be critical to identifying a path forward. The first step was to work with the town to develop a collection system inventory and GIS database. WK Dickson worked with the town to migrate any existing planning, utilities and other data sets into an ESRI GIS database and inventory. Missing manholes and other utility assets were field surveyed and added to mapping effort. Our field crews also conducted a condition assessment using NASSCO-scoring of the manholes to document existing conditions throughout the collection system.

Exploratory Surgery

After this initial effort was completed, WK Dickson staff met with DWI staff to discuss our finding and recommendations for the next phase of the project. While our field crews were able to find, survey, and assess many of the manholes within the system, there were areas that needed further evaluation. We recommended CCTV and cleaning of the oldest remaining portions of the collection system to identify issues that could be contributing to the I/I and locate any missing assets. Together, all this work will result in an identification of needed repairs and improvements within the collection system along with a unified inventory of sewer system components that will form the basis of the GIS database, which can be quickly accessed and/or edited.

Final Prescription and Wellness Plan

The town now has a comprehensive system map along with an updated and enhanced list of prioritized rehabilitation, replacement, and repair needs in the system focused on eliminating I/I and thereby improving the financial health and sustainability of the town and its utility systems. Capital and O&M projects were outlined in a multi-year plan with preliminary cost estimates. A summary report of the CIP and project results and recommendations for ongoing improvements to the asset management program was prepared and submitted to NCDEQ-DWI.

Have questions about your project’s eligibility for funding? Contact us at info@wkdickson.com for answers.

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