Asset management. It’s a term that comes up frequently during a 90 minute conversation I had about infrastructure with Mike Thomas, the City of Revelstoke’s director of engineering and development last week.
Asset management — meaning knowing the condition of Revelstoke’s infrastructure assets, what needs and will need replacing, and what it will cost to maintain or replace existing infrastructure in the most efficient and sustainable way possible.
“I don’t want to be going into a road and digging up a water main if in five years time we’ll have to go back and do the sewer main,” Thomas tells me “If we can get away with doing all of it at once — that’s where we’re trying to get to with the asset management.”
I sat down with Thomas to get an idea of the state of the city’s infrastructure; infrastructure deficits are major issues in municipalities across the country, so how is Revelstoke doing?
The goal is to look at issues facing the city as we head into a municipal election campaign, much as the Times Review is doing with the series on poverty.
“The infrastructure side of things, I want to get to a point where’s there’s confidence we’re designing infrastructure for a sustainable future,” Thomas said. “That doesn’t mean it’s going to last for generations, but it’s been designed in such a way it would be easy to maintain.”
The interview covered a wide range of topics, but the main focus was on water, sewer and roads.
Revelstoke has about 100 kilometres of water pipes circulating beneath the ground throughout the city. They’re all connected to the water treatment plant in the Greeley Area that was built in 1996 for a cost of about $6 million.
Thomas said the city’s water system meets all the requirements set by Interior Health.
Still, there are issues, notably in determining how much water is leaking from the system. A report released late last year estimated the water loss through leakage at anywhere from 24 to 78 per cent of water in the system. Now work is underway to refine those numbers and determine where those leaks are happening.
The first step is to calibrate the existing water metres in place throughout the system. They have been in place for up to 40 years and some have never been calibrated since they were installed.
“Even a small error means you can be 10–20 per cent wrong,” said Thomas.
That work is supposed to be done this fall. Thomas also hopes to install more metres throughout the city to improve the data. Once the metres are ready, flows will be monitored and compared to expected use based on the number of houses in an area.
The next step is acoustic leak detection to find out where the leaks are happening. Then, “At some point you have to start repairing these things,” said Thomas.
Replacing pipes is another item on the city’s agenda. The pipe that was just replace outside city hall was a cast iron pipe that was 80 years old. The pipe was lined with organic material, effectively halving its diameter and reducing the flow. In its place is a PVC pipe that is expected to last a century.
Another pipe that is slated for replacement is the one that crosses the Illecillewaet River to feed Arrow Heights and Revelstoke Mountain Resort. When it was built 15 years ago, it was buried in the river under a layer of rocks, however the force of the river shifted the rocks, exposing the pipe.
It is expected to cost $600,000 to dig a tunnel under the river and lay a new pipe. Thomas said the project is the city’s highest priority water project at the moment. “This is an important piece of infrastructure to ensure we have water service at the level residents expect,” Thomas said.
Another pipe he brought up was an old 12-inch concrete pipe under Oak Drive in Johnson Heights. It is earmarked for replacement, but first they will check the condition of the pipe before undertaking the expensive project.
The city has good data on the age of pipes in the city, Thomas said, but condition is also something to consider. “In terms of putting a percentage on the condition of the pipes or how many are close to failing or needing replacement, I’d say a very small percentage is at that critical point.”
The biggest problem with Revelstoke’s sewer system is inflow and infiltration, said Thomas.
“It effectively reduces the capacity of pipes, the pumps and the treatment plant,” he said. “You end up carrying more sewer that’s diluted by rain water. If we can get that rainwater out of the sewer, the effective capacity of our infrastructure increases.”
One of the worst locations for that inflow is near Kovach Park — when the Columbia River rises, groundwater seeps in through the manholes — but it’s a problem all over town.
“The times our pump stations are overwhelmed is during storms, so there’s a lot of rain water getting into the station,” said Thomas. “If we can reduce that inflow and infiltration, it extends the life of all those assets — the effective capacity from a development perspective.”
Another issue with the sewer system is the age of some of the lift stations that help transport liquid waste to the treatment plant near the industrial park. The Downie lift station was recently replaced at a cost of $2.2 million, and other lift stations are in need of work.
A big project looming over the city is the movement of the sewage outflow to the Columbia River, as has been mandated by the Ministry of the Environment. The cost of the project is estimated at $4.5 million, but Thomas said he is in discussions with the ministry to look at other options.
“It really is early days,” he said. “If we are mandated to do it, we will move ahead with it. If that’s what the ministry says we must do to keep our operating permit, that’s what we’ll do. I’d like us to evaluate our options before we spend $4.5 million on a pipe.”
The third piece we discussed at length was the state of the city’s roads. Thomas said he wants to undertake a pavement management plan that would look at the state of the city’s roads and also set out the condition to which they’re maintained.
The first step would be to bring in a piece of technology that would scan the city’s 60-kilometre road network. The machine looks at all the cracks, surface distresses and other issues with a road and gives it a pavement score from 0 to 100.
“Once you’ve got that score, you can start working on level or service,” said Thomas. “As a community, what standard do we want our roads to be at, at an average?”
Level of service is something that would have be determined by council; it would be up to public works to maintain roads to that standard. A critical element to save money would be to fix roads before they fall into complete disrepair.
Unfortunately, some roads in town are in disrepair. Thomas pointed to the section of Second Street in Lower Town, which he said is in need of a complete rebuild. Doing that is much more expensive than doing minor repairs over time. It’s cheaper to do incremental repairs every few years to maintain a road at a pavement score of 70 than it is to let it fall apart and do a major rebuild every 30 years.
“I think managing our roads like that has the potential to be half the cost of letting the roads fail and having to rebuild them,” he said. “The biggest challenge I think we face is a number of roads have deteriorated beyond the point of remedial work.”
Thomas and I also discussed some major projects the city is looking at in the near to long-term. These include issues such as the Trans-Canada/Victoria/Mutas intersection, the Victoria/Fourth/Townley junction, the Illecillewaet Bridge and Big Eddy Bridge.
Discussions are underway to fix the highway intersection, but there are major challenges to find a solution that will satisfy the Ministry of Transportation, the city and the businesses that rely on highway traffic.
“I’ve got sketches of potential intersection designs. I know it would work for my needs, but I think it won’t work for the ministry,” said Thomas. “Well, what would work for the ministry?”
Thomas also said he has started to work on the Victoria/Fourth/Townley intersection. For that one, he is working with CP Rail to make sure his designs are compatible with their needs, since CP has a spur line that stretches across Fourth Street.
“That one is less about the businesses and highways. It’s more about us as a community,” he said. “I think just about everyone in town uses that intersection very regularly.”
The Illecillewaet Bridge is another potentially costly piece of essential infrastructure that could need upgrading. The bridge is aging, though it is still in fairly good shape, and a replacement could cost in the tens of millions.
The Big Eddy Bridge presents a similar predicament; the bridge is nearing the end of its lifespan and its future is uncertain.
An issue that needs to be resolved with both bridges is who takes responsibility — both are jointly run by the city and the ministry of transportation so there will need to be collaboration on any future work.
What’s it going to cost?
One thing I wanted to get an idea of is what it will cost to maintain Revelstoke’s infrastructure, and how able the city is to pay for it.
On the first question, Thomas said a key piece to the asset management plan being developed is getting a rough idea of what it will cost to maintain or replace all city assets over time.
“We need to do that for every asset in the city over the life of those assets,” he said. “If you have a 20-year plan, you should see every road in the city on that plan.”
What about the city’s capacity to pay? “To do things the way things have been done the last 50 years, I’m not sure there’s enough money to do that for everything,” replied Thomas. “One of the things I’d like to see is integrating these projects so that we’re spending 20 per cent less when we do things all together, rather than one at a time.”
That means looking at the state of all the infrastructure in the ground before undertaking project. One of the goals of the asset management plan is to give a score to the condition of road, sewer and water infrastructure in every corridor. That way you can prioritize work based on what area has the highest cumulative score.
Is the road in rough shape but the water main still has five years left in it? Well, then wait five years before doing the work.
“Maybe we don’t do that worst road first, we do the one that has the worst risk of water main break,” said Thomas.
You can also look at making infrastructure more sustainable, such as narrowing roads to make the cost of repairs and plowing lower in the future.
“We have a plan. We’re working on that plan,” said Thomas. “The plan being focus on sustainable asset management. There’s a number of pieces we need to develop along the way to make sure we’re managing those assets sustainably.”