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Bringing Our Collection Systems Home: The Results of the Re-establishment of Local Collection System Operations

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In May 2006 the California State Water Resources Control Board adopted new Waste Discharge Regulations (WDR) affecting all collection system owners and operators throughout California with greater than one mile of collection system pipelines. These requirements for the first time made it very clear that the owner of a collection system had direct responsibility and the full liability for their systems even if they did not manage the day to day operations, maintenance and replacement activities of those systems of pipes. At that time in the Antelope Valley in the County of Los Angeles, California all collection systems in both the incorporated and unincorporated areas were owned by the local public agencies but operated and maintained by the Consolidated Sewer Maintenance District (CSMD) of Los Angeles, an agency represented by the ex officio Board of Directors the County Board of Supervisors and staffed by the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Works. The CSMD currently has direct O&M responsibilities in forty-two (42) separate City collection systems throughout the County, maintaining 5,250 miles of pipelines, 116,000 manholes, 154 pump stations and 4 treatment plants on behalf of the agency owners. The maintenance operations in the Antelope Valley had been ongoing since shortly after the incorporation of the two municipal agencies in 1962 and 1977 based upon a simple two-page resolution of authorization. The County Board of Supervisors made all O&M and funding decisions for the entire CSMD.

As a result of the new WDR regulations and ongoing asset replacement concerns, the Cities of Lancaster and Palmdale determined that it was in their residents best interest to withdraw the from the CSMD and to assume the full responsibility for all operations and maintenance activities for each of their sewer systems. At the time, each agency owned approximately 400 miles of collection system lines, between 7500 and 9000 manholes and two pump stations. These City Council decisions resulted in the withdrawal of Lancaster on July 1, 2008 and the withdrawal of Palmdale on July 1, 2009. Both agencies were also experiencing very rapid growth averaging about 5,000 new sewage connections per year. Both agencies were only involved in approval processes for sewer system expansion, coordinating the approval of all new sewer assets through the CSMD, which retained the final approval of all pipeline extensions and expansions. Neither City had any maintenance related staff familiar with sanitary sewer system operations at the time of the decision to withdraw.

The decision to withdraw required both agencies to almost immediately establish full maintenance operations, new funding capabilities and establish the policies and procedures to meet the requirements of the new WDR regulations. Both agencies established one;amp;#x2013;year implementation periods to develop, staff, plan, meet the new WDR deadlines and fund the new sanitary sewer functions. Lancaster chose to implement a staff based approach to O&M, while Palmdale chose to begin by using service contracts for their operations and maintenance requirements. These two approaches have resulted in varying results and also in a very interesting comparison of the management practices and performance results for the new collection system operations.

Lancaster chose to staff the entire operation by maximizing in house personnel as soon as possible after withdrawal only entering into short;amp;#x2013;term contract assistance for peak staff overload requirements and full service CCTV efforts. On the other hand, Palmdale determined to contract for all maintenance of the sewer system and to hire only enough staff needed to manage and administer the maintenance contracts for the operations and maintenance of their sewer system. This decision resulted in three maintenance contracts — one for the CCTV needs; one with the County of Los Angeles for “hot spots” maintenance, emergency response and pump station maintenance; and one with a private operation and maintenance firm for the long term cyclic cleaning of the lines.

The proposed presentation will summarize and contrast for the attendees the organizational decisions regarding management and staffing of each organization in establishing their sewer programs; summarize the funding and budgeting requirements of both agencies for the first three years of operations and finally will present two years of operational performance results from each agency compared to CSMD performance and best in class performance. This later analysis will compare historical performance results to actual performance results of the full municipal operation, the results of two contract operations in Palmdale and the former CSMD results prior to withdrawal. The actual performance results from the new programs will compare staffing levels, staff and crew size and availability, cleaning results by crew and type of equipment (both by number of sections and by cleaning footage), costs per linear foot of operations, CCTV results and costs and financial results compared to budget expectations. Finally, a short discussion and recommendations for a successful organizational development and transition from a mega agency operation with little local control to a new municipal operation with full local control will be provided.

It is expected that the information and actual performance results provided in the presentation can be directly compared to the attendee's own agency performance and can be used to compare to best in class performance results in the industry or in the attendee's local area. In addition, it will allow the attendee the opportunity to understand the challenges and issues necessary to establish a new sewer collection system operation and what realistic performance achievements can be expected from establishing a new collection system operation.
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Keywords: Performance standards; best management practices; collection system maintenance; contract maintenance; master planning; sewer system management plan; staffing

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-01-01

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