Aging Infrastructure is a Cost of Doing Business

Jim Ling - SFCSD Board of Directors

By Jim Ling, SFCSD Board of Directors

There’s a famous old adage that begins with “Growing old is mandatory…” As much as we’d like to resist it, the notion remains a universal truth; one that also applies to the infrastructure of the South Fort Collins Sanitation District (SFCSD).

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At the SFCSD, investment in the health and vitality of our infrastructure is also an investment in the health and vitality of our community. Water treatment is a foundational service for a modern society and it is our mission to deliver that service at a high level of quality and efficiency. But aging is inevitable—things fall apart. Which is why the SFCSD board of directors implemented a proactive approach to the management and budgeting of District infrastructure maintenance and repairs.

If aging equipment and infrastructure is maintained properly, and replacement work is projected and incorporated into the overall asset management plan, we won’t negatively impact essential operations. Simple as that. Additionally, responsible management of our infrastructure costs allows us to build expenses into our regular budgets, which keeps monthly bills predictable and as low as possible.

Throughout the District’s 60-square-mile network of infrastructure—which serves more than 50,000 customers—the equipment and infrastructure varies greatly and serves many different purposes. But the workhorse of this non-stop sewer collection system is the lift station.

The seven lift stations across the District vary in age. Each was built over the years to accommodate the ongoing growth trend and development projects that bring new customers to the area. As a result, many lift stations have been in service for over 30 years. While others are still relatively new, regular maintenance helps us reach that 50-year lifespan. As part of an ongoing effort to ensure service to our customers, we have begun assessing the condition of each lift station and have started to implement necessary upgrades.

The District regularly maintains its infrastructure and has avoided any major impact to operations across the lift stations, but the cost to maintain them and their associated infrastructure is highly variable depending on their condition. This reinforces two ideas. First, that regular maintenance of infrastructure like lift stations is key to avoiding unexpected emergency repairs. Second, that proactively budgeting for regular maintenance helps avoid emergency repairs and sudden expenses.

Our condition assessment plan has outlined short- and long-term costs that will factor into the District’s normal operating and capital budget cycles. Other improvements coming from the condition assessment will be planned as part of our ongoing maintenance and improvement program.

Thanks to effective management of our aging infrastructure, the District has been able to accomplish our goals without dramatic impact on our customers. But as we continue our evaluation of lift stations and determine budget additions or adjustments to support that infrastructure, it’s possible that the monthly rates our customers pay may change. The District staff and board of directors work hard to maintain competitive rates while providing second-to-none-utility service to our customers, and we will continue to do so.