Water Utilities Can Make Red Tape Pay

What FEMA Funding, Concrete Volutes, and Purchasing Contracts Have in Common

By Paul Studebaker

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The Water/Wastewater Industry Forum, held today in Houston at the Automation Fair presented by Rockwell Automation, kicked off with a presentation of tips for maximizing disaster recovery funding by Jon Hoyle, president, Thompson Consulting Services, LLC.

Hoyle has assisted some 250 state and local governments to apply for and administer disaster recovery funds. The typical series of steps following a disaster, from declaration through application, funding and project closeout, looks linear and logical but is best navigated with preparation and care to achieve the best results.

Start by clearly understanding and discriminating the differences between temporary repairs and permanent restorations. Temporary or emergency repairs generally must be completed within six months, though water and wastewater repairs often take longer and are granted extensions to a year or longer. Permanent repairs are intended to restore systems to their pre-disaster design, capacity and function. They may include mitigation--to harden infrastructure against future events--and should be completed in 18 months, though, again, water and wastewater projects often get extensions.

"It's critical during formulation to distinguish between temporary and permanent repairs, and call them out correctly in the application narrative, to be sure FEMA doesn't see anything as duplicate work."

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FEMA will also look for and deny expenses that might be ascribed to normal operating costs. For this reason, Hoyle suggests that you rent rather than buy, regardless of cost-effectiveness, so the expense is clearly temporary. For example, instead of purchasing emergency power, rent a generator.

Mitigation strategies can include alternative projects, where the public interest is better served by an alternative rather than restoration to original design, capacity and function. "FEMA likes to do this," Holye said, "but involve them as soon as possible because they must approve the alternative prior to construction."

Another form of mitigation is the improved project where, for example, a pumping station is reconstructed with higher capacity. "The difference in cost versus replacement is up to you," Hoyle said.

Section 406 offers you the opportunity to write in up to a 15% project cost increase, with pre-approval. Holye said, "This is free money you should definitely take advantage of." Section 404 offers similar premiums on larger projects on a sliding scale: 15% or the first $2 billion, 10% of $2 -10 billion, etc. These funds are approved based on calculated cost versus benefit. "You are competing with other projects for these funds," Hoyle said.

Hoyle urges you to understand changes in codes and standards, especially the advisory base flood elevation (ABFE) in your area. "You need to build to this standard whenever possible, but it may be some time after a disaster before it is revised." He also pointed out that FEMA will reimburse you for most of the cost – 75-95% – of getting help under DAP9525.9.

Above all, bear in mind that "Most FEMA documents are ‘guidance,'" Hoyle said. "Determinations are subjective. Be at the table and exercise your right to make a case." Document everything: tape record or take minutes of every meeting, and try to get them signed off by everyone at the table. "At the same time, every decision is a financial risk – it may not be funded," Hoyle advised. "So treat every decision as a business decision."

The next presenter hailed from the Netherlands, which has a long history of flood control using pumps. World urbanization is increasing global demand for this technology as growing cities leave less land area for natural drainage.

"Average storm damage will increase from $6 billion per city in 2005 to $52 billion by 2050 if systems are not upgraded," said Teun te Poele, senior project manager, large water projects, Flowserve Hengelo. Coastal areas have dominated the news but this is also true of non-coastal cities like Dallas, which is performing $933 million in projects on its Trinity River Corridor to improve pumping capacity from 1.7 to 2.4 million gpm.

"Reliability is key, and total lifecycle cost is important," te Poele said, so low maintenance and high energy efficiency weighed heavily in the decision to use concrete-volute pumps. These pumps are very reliable due to the large size, corrosion resistance and rigidity of the concrete volute, which also leads to low speeds and negligible erosion, short and rigid shafts, and low vibration. Their short inserts allow lower building and crane heights for pullouts.

A study of concrete volute pumps in the Netherlands, Finland and Canada showed 1315 years of total operation with one outage.

In the Dallas project, the Pavaho station was upgraded from 76,000 to 375,000 gpm in the same footprint using three concrete-volute pumps. Simulation allowed designers to get near zero cavitation despite tight approach flow and "candy cane" outlet geometries. Further, variable-speed drives give control as well as solving the problem of starting the large pumps on a relatively weak power grid.

The pumps were tested and accepted in 2012, three days before a storm that would have flooded the area. "This time, residents stayed dry," te Poele said.

Michael Kellogg, systems analyst, City of College Station, Texas, home of Texas A&M University, presented on innovative ways to contract control systems. The city-owned water and wastewater treatment facilities are serving a population growing steadily past 100,000 at 200 people per month, which has lead to a solid stream of expansion projects.

"Our challenge was to break through TITWWADI syndrome," Kellogg said, "Doing things the same way because ‘this is the way we've always done it'--buying the same kinds of systems from the same, familiar vendors."

But the bid process is labor-intensive and time-consuming: one must write RFPs, do reviews, advertise and get bids, and sit through vendor presentations. "Then you must take the lowest bid," Kellogg said, "or justify a best-value rationale for not doing so," another investment of time and effort.

So Kellogg examined alternative processes, including purchasing under a state contract at pre-negotiated discounts on approved products from approved vendors. "We buy our computers that way, why not our controllers?"

Rockwell Automation was already approved for federal contracts under GSA 70, and municipalities are eligible. These offer discounts off list prices and discounted field engineering costs. Panels can be built and shipped to a third party, and delivery costs are included. College Station purchased completed marshalling cabinets for a well field and shipped them to Houston, where a vendor put them in a modular building.

Snags included getting the city's purchasing people on board. "They were unaware and struggled with the wording of the cooperative agreement," said Kellogg. "We had to get Rockwell Automation involved to help them understand."

The purchase orders must come from the government, not a system integrator, Kellogg added, and not all products are on the contract. Since products must be shipped directly from the supplier, "your local distributor may feel left out," Kellogg said. "Copy them on the order so they can get credit."

Unfortunately, GSA 70 expired in September, 2013, and a replacement contract is one or two years away, but its lessons stand. "Take the time to research contracts," said Kellogg. "You may have a state contract, or your distributor or institution may have one." Contracts can save time and money on obtaining equipment, software and services, and the standardization can streamline operations.

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