Blog: Fast-Track Repair, Retrofit and Replacement of Municipal Water Systems

Posted on Friday, April 06, 2018

The Government of Alberta has set aside $545 million over 5 years to repair and update rural water treatment facilities through the Alberta's Water For Life program.  Municipal governments have a number of options available to accelerate access to these funds and improve the speed of execution for water and wastewater solutions.

Firstly, the use of advanced 3D design and prototyping tools facilitates the fast-tracking of grant applications and reduce approval times.  Traditional design tools are based on two-dimensional software chassis that do not lend themselves to early visualization of the end product.  As such, consultation, notification and application processes consume valuable time as stakeholders struggle with the complexity of proposed systems that are not familiar to them.  Early creation of accurate 3D prototypes allows for meaningful engagement of all parties (constructors, operators, regulators, neighbours, First Nations) to understand the proposed solution, its impact on their interests and how they can contribute to more optimimal designs.

Secondly, a well-crafted design-build-operate-transfer contracting strategy can bring projects on line in less than half the time while ensuring the plant achieves fixed targets for budget, schedule and operational performance.  A variation of the dbot strategy has been utilized at award-winning wastewater plants at Banff and Jasper.  These plants are achieving superior nutrient removal targets and were delivered in less time than the Owners' original estimate.  In both cases, the contractor was allowed the flexibility to apply innovation to reduce CAPEX/OPEX while the Owner's engineer provided an independent verification without contributing to budget creep or schedule slippage.

Thirdly, the increased use of modular facilities can reduce site construction costs as much as 75%.  A modular execution strategy downsizes the budget for electrical/mechanical completion on site from "stick built" to "plug and play" levels.  Factory Acceptance Testing on completed assemblies combined with CSA-certification prior to shipment means problems are solved where the supply of specialty labour and replacement parts is much more readily available.

Fourthly, the use of life-cycle tools for estimating CAPEX and OPEX result in a better value proposition for the Owner.  By carefully evaluating the impact of lowest capital cost on long-term repair, replacement and operating expense, Owners can avoid the scenario of "penny-wise, pound-foolish".

Finally, a design-build-operate with a transfer back to the Owner upon "debugging" can yield the best of all worlds.  By taking a facility through a least one-cycle of extreme events, the design-build contractor remains committed to achieving performance targets in the most cost-effective manner and correcting any shortfalls.  For a surface water treatment plant, a high-turbidity spring freshet tests particle removal efficiency whereas a winter low-flow scenarios tests the vulnerability of systems to ice-in constraining water supply.  Likewise, operating wastewater plants through peaking events (such as Canada Day in a resort community) or low flow conditions (during mid-winter lulls) allows the design-builder to verify nutrient removal efficiency, address any equipment modifications and develop standard operating procedures for long-term operations.  The design-build contractor possesses the expertise on commissioning-startup-optimization while the Owner focuses on maintenance and routine operations - two very different skill sets that work best in a dbot.

As western Canada transitions from a "sellers market" inspired by high energy prices to a "buyers market" inspired by the need for better value, variations on a design-build-operate-transfer strategy offer Owners a mechanism to capitalize on the funding now being made available for infrastructure investment.