Ross Valley Sanitary District: from cease and desist to solid asset management

Eric Suesz Eric Suesz January 6, 2023

7 min read

Way back in 1899 – a decade after hydraulic mining was outlawed in California and the Gold Rush had completely petered out – the Ross Valley Sanitary District was established. It’s one of the Golden State’s oldest sanitary districts. Located in Marin County, RVSD serves the hilly communities of Sleepy Hollow, Fairfax, San Anselmo, Ross, Larkspur, Kentfield, Greenbrae, and Murray Park.

Community outreach done right in RVSP’s latest video. Nice job, Manny and Frank!

This stunningly beautiful area just north of the Golden Gate Bridge is partly wealthy, with freshly minted Silicon Valley millionaires living in custom-built, high-tech, modern houses. But the area also sports a significant, off-grid, hippie legacy, with small hand-built shacks dotting the landscape, some of them with rudimentary water and sewer connections or septic tanks.

Water drains in complex ways in this verdant, hilly landscape.

This landscape, with its complex easements, aging infrastructure, and many local rivers, creeks, and ponds, presents a number of Infiltration and Inflow (I&I) challenges, especially when you consider that RVSD maintains 196 miles of mainline and trunk line sewers and 7.9 miles of force main pipe.

To organize it all, their linear assets are stored in a Computerized Maintenance Management System (CMMS) and asset management program that uses Innovyze’s InfoAsset Manager software – among others. But they weren’t always stored this way.

A phrase no one wants to hear: cease and desist

In the past – as far back as 2011 – RVSD wasn’t all that digitally minded. They collaborated internally using mapbooks with color-coded stickers and highlighter pens and relied on handwritten reports, which resulted in a generally reactive maintenance mindset. Which is not to say that they weren’t striving towards more digital workflows. In 2012, they implemented a CMMS and began cataloging their assets, instituting CCTV inspections, and tracking incidents in their work.

But it was too little, too late. In 2013, amidst a number of major failures, high I&Is, and SSOs (Sanitary Sewer Overflows), the California Regional Water Quality Control Board issued them a Cease and Desist Order (CDO).

A few of the challenges they faced when they received a CDO.

They responded by proposing a comprehensive, risk-based asset management program – and they tackled it with utmost urgency. “With a combination of investment in tools and software as well as training staff, and collaboration with regulators, software companies, and other agencies with similar approaches, RVSD was able to exceed the CDO requirements,” says Operations & Maintenance Manager Stephen Miksis.

Since then, RVSD has continued to adopt numerous Autodesk solutions, developing an asset registry, performing thorough condition assessments, and using advanced risk analysis to intelligently and effectively manage their wastewater infrastructure.

Better in the field – and in the office

The biggest change for workers when they adopted their new technologies was that RVSD implemented digital field maps, which are updated as assets are added, rehabilitated, and as corrections are identified through their field work.

“Field personnel used to carry a hard-copy map book that contained the entire sewer system,” explains Operations Supervisor John Vogel. “They now use laptop notebooks with InfoAsset Mobile installed on them.” This ensures workers can take advantage of real-time reporting and mapping capabilities, which has dramatically improved their efficiency.

How they did it back in 2011. We love the way a mapbook feels, but it’s not the best for collaboration.

And the improvements aren’t just showing up in the field. “InfoAsset Mobile and InfoAsset Manager sharing the same database has contributed to improving field personnel and office productivity,” continues Vogel. “This means that our processes – including scheduling work orders, reporting while in the field, and synchronizing our asset information back to InfoAsset Manager – are streamlined.”

How they do it now: field map updated with all field work.

Making CCTV a critical part of their work

Given that they had already begun experimenting with CCTV for inspections before the CDO, they wanted to ensure that they tied that initiative directly into their new ways of working using Innovyze software. By integrating InfoAsset Manager with their Sewer Main Asset Replacement Tool (SMARTool), which was developed in Microsoft Access, they were able to make CCTV not just a part of their effort but a main focus.

“Our mainline sewer condition assessment program includes CCTV inspection of main line pipes to determine their condition and to detect cleaning requirements,” says Miksis. “We also investigate all SSOs with video inspections. If an SSO resulted from a main line structural defect, we want to make sure that we prevent that defect from leading to a second SSO.” Consequently, they typically now make repairs or replacements within one month after the SSO occurred.

Pipe repair form completed and CCTV information entered in InfoAsset Mobile while in the field.

The system now evaluates the risk of failure for an individual pipe segment, given each asset’s likelihood and consequence of failure. When new CCTV inspections are added in InfoAsset Manager, the SMARTool results are updated with the new CCTV data so that risk scores can be assigned to each inspected pipe segment.

Cleaning pipes more often – and more efficiently

One of the most compelling aspects of adopting a digital workflow with tools like InfoAsset Manager is that its usefulness compounds over time. Work orders generated from InfoAsset Manager are used for the system-wide cleaning of all sewer pipes and siphons. When work orders are completed, the InfoAsset Manager database instantly updates with their field reporting.

Miksis uses the recording of cleaning results to help alter the frequency or method of cleaning for manhole-to-manhole pipe segments. “Our teams clean most of the sewer system about every one-to-eight years. And thanks to the insights we gain from stored asset data, we clean specific portions of the system with known problems on a more frequent basis. Consequently, we are able to minimize maintenance costs, because we can prioritize cleaning activities of the right assets. We always have a realistic view of the condition of our system.”

Compounding on their success

RVSD’s implementation of this risk-based asset management program has enabled the district to lengthen wastewater asset life. But perhaps more important, it’s given them powerful decision-making tools that improve over time as more data is poured in, helping them collectively improve the choices they make around asset maintenance, repair, rehabilitation, and replacement.

“Within InfoAsset Manager, we track historical information about each pipe segment that is used to help define the six-month priority maintenance schedule. It stores service calls and generates automatic work orders for both regular and six-month maintenances. The results from CCTV inspections, pipe cleaning, and pipe repairs are recorded in InfoAsset Manager and integrated into analyses and reports.”

Details matter. CCTV management within InfoAsset Manager.

“With the historical and current information stored in the InfoAsset Manager database, we are able to compare SSO trends from previous years and identify system components that repeatedly contribute to system failures”, explains Miksis. “From 2016 to 2019, SSO occurrences have been reduced by half. During that same period, causes of SSOs from roots, debris, and structure have decreased by 86%, 56%, and 20% respectively, illustrating the effectiveness of our ongoing O&M programs.”

Going further with capacity planning in ICM

In addition to InfoAsset Manager, they’ve adopted other Innovyze solutions to help them assess their overall capacity. “We utilized the calibrated hydraulic model that was developed using InfoWorks ICM software for our Sewer Hydraulic Evaluation and Capacity Assurance Plan (SHECAP) project, and applied a 10-year, 24-hour design storm,” says Miksis. “Pipes were considered under-capacity if the hydraulic model predicted an SSO.”

This capacity planning using their actual hydraulic models is just the beginning for them. “We plan to update our hydraulic model and capacity assurance analysis to develop a revised list of rehabilitation and capital improvement projects. In the meantime, we have completed extensive capital improvement projects in accordance with the 2013 IAMP and the large diameter sewer condition assessment work of 2014. As a result of this capacity assessment work, SSOs due to capacity have been reduced by 88% from 2016 to 2019.”

What a difference a decade makes

RVSD teams now monitor many more metrics. They use dashboards directly within InfoAsset Manager, and they have integrated it into Power BI to create custom-configurable dashboards. They track KPI metrics related to pipe cleans, incidents, inspections, manhole and pipe repairs, and resources, leveraging these metrics to improve decisions related to their asset management program. They’ve come a long way from written reports and post-it notes, and the difference is striking.

After all of the hard work to reimagine the way they work, RVSD was rewarded with a Small Collection System Agency of the Year award in 2020 for the Redwood Empire Section of CWEA (California Water Environment Association). “We could not be more pleased with receiving this prestigious award,” concludes Miksis. “It is a recognition of our ongoing asset management program success and the continuous hard work of RVSD staff.”

Dig deeper into this story

Read their Sewer System Management Plan or dig into John and Steve’s presentations 👇 at a Bay Area Summit on Sanitary Assessment Management:

Fill up on more of the One Water blog

Sign up for the One Water Blog newsletter, and we'll keep you updated about our top stories, along with the best content we find online. We only send out a newsletter when we have something interesting to share.