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Water Asset Management Q&A:

Big Insights for Smaller Agencies and City Departments

3.6 minute read

January 19, 2022

Asset management has never been more important than it is today. During the construction booms of the mid-twentieth century, large amounts of infrastructure were built or placed in the ground. As these assets reach the end of their lives, municipalities must carefully plan their replacement before the price exceeds what communities can cover through bonding and rate adjustments.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave a nationwide score of C- for drinking water systems and D+ for wastewater systems. It’s a serious problem: Aging assets may compromise a community’s ability to provide adequate drinking water or collect and treat wastewater.

Brian Spindor, Senior Consultant at Harris & Associates, recently responded to questions regarding asset management, especially as it applies to smaller agencies and city departments.

1. Why is asset management (AM) important for smaller water utilities? Isn’t AM more for big utilities?

For small- and medium-sized utilities, an asset failure has a far greater impact than for a larger system. Larger systems often possess built in redundancies, greater financial resources, and the equipment and staffing to recover after an asset failure. Conversely, when a small system fails, a community may lose water for several days while waiting for repairs. Asset management is all about understanding system risks and having appropriate mitigation measures in place.

For example, a utility that knows a pipeline is reaching the end of its life can plan for its replacement by setting aside capital funds, adjusting rates, and creating enhanced measures to monitor the pipeline condition.

2. How does the AM approach differ for smaller utilities?

To develop an asset management program that complies with a recognized standard, such as the Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia (IPWEA), municipalities should first develop a governing and guiding policy. Unfortunately, for a small- or medium-size utility, developing the guiding policy can use an entire AM budget.

A better approach is to start by prioritizing the items with the most impact on day-to-day operations. These could include improving your asset register, determining asset condition, strengthening preventive and predictive maintenance techniques, planning maintenance work, and implementing a cost-benefit analysis to determine your capital improvement program.

3. What challenges will smaller utilities face when implementing more robust AM?

Change management is probably the biggest challenge. Many utilities have gotten into the bad habit of continual repair even when replacement is warranted. Others take a “run it until it breaks” (and hoping it does not break on their watch) position. Both cases require changes in operations, philosophy, and culture. Because change is so hard, even among small agencies, getting buy-in from staff and involving them in the development of the AM program can go a long way to improving their daily work.

4. What advice would you give the person tasked with AM?

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and don’t expect a one-size-fits-all AM program. From the largest corporations and utilities to the smallest, effective AM programs are tailored to fit that organization. You’ll inevitably make mistakes as you customize your AM program, but you’ll quickly discover what works and what doesn’t for your organization. Also, know going in that AM programs will change as you learn more and as society evolves.

5. What is your favorite part of asset management?

Seeing that “aha!” moment when someone understands a new concept or sees how an AM program benefits their daily work. My favorite example involves a mechanic who was responsible for keeping a vast plant full of moving machinery properly lubricated. He needed to document the work as he progressed through his day. We collaborated with him to improve the asset register, implement a mobile work order system, and tag equipment properly.

After he adjusted to using a computerized system, the mechanic realized his job was easier by having work planned out—he never needed to chase down an asset ID, and he replaced a huge stack of papers with an efficient electronic system.

Our Water Consulting team is ready to help! If you have any questions about developing an asset management program for your agency, contact Harris’ Senior Consultant Brian Spindor.


Brian Spindor, CMRP, PE

Brian Spindor, CMRP, PE

Senior Consultant / Water Consulting


Brian Spindor, CMRP, PE


Harris & Associates


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