The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has just published a report that looks at water utilities’ use of asset management with a special focus on smaller (<10,000) systems. GAO reviewed efforts undertaken by both EPA and USDA and visited 25 small drinking water and/or wastewater utilities across ten states (AZ, AR, DE, ID, IA, MN, MS, NY, VT, and WY) that had been identified (one per EPA Region) as having the highest percentage of small water utility needs per recent EPA Needs Surveys.
EPA, USDA, and officials from the ten states identified both benefits and challenges for small systems with regard to implementing asset management programs. The identified benefits were fairly straightforward and focused on cost savings and more efficient long term planning. The challenges, however, were a bit lengthier and more complex. They included the availability of funding to cover start-up and maintenance costs, availability of human resources, information on how to implement asset management practices, and political support from elected officials to begin an asset management program or increase user rates.
While both EPA and USDA continue to work to help water utilities implement asset management programs through a variety of mechanisms, GAO offered two specific recommendations for the agencies:
- “That the Administrator of EPA direct the Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water and Office of Wastewater Management to continue to include questions on water utilities’ use of asset management in the clean water needs assessment and consider including questions about water utilities’ use of asset management in future drinking water infrastructure needs assessment surveys.”
- “That the Administrator of EPA, and the Secretary of USDA, through the Rural Development Agency, consider compiling into one document the existing cases and examples of the benefits and costs of asset management and widely share this information with water utilities.”
In response, EPA generally agreed with the recommendations but noted that the needs surveys may not be the most efficient data collection vehicles. EPA said, however, that it would be willing “…to explore other means of obtaining data that would provide an indication of how utilities are benefitting from the agency’s asset management training and technical assistance.” On the issue of compiling case studies, EPA concurred that, as funding and resources allow, it would consider the development of a case study compilation. USDA did not specifically comment on this recommendation other than to state that it will continue to emphasize asset management.
To view and/or download the full report, please click this link: http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-16-237