The Beginner’s Guide to Geospatial Asset Management

The Beginner’s Guide to Geospatial Asset Management

The biggest problem that we’re facing is that nobody knows where all the stuff is. Our current operator has been here for 40 years, and he knows every single meter and dog in the town, but his son is trying to train to take over for him and he can’t figure out where anything is! The kid can’t memorize it fast enough and the dad can’t transport his knowledge into the kid’s head.

The excerpt above is from a conversation that took place between the mayor of a small, rural community, and me during a recent site visit. He went on to talk about the difficulties of retaining employees and training new ones in a town that is already low on eligible workers. This conversation highlights a common problem that many utilities face, which is an older generation of workers who have remained at their jobs for decades and a younger generation who favors transience and pursuing other opportunities. With expansive technology is there a way for small rural communities to solve this issue?

As water and wastewater utilities move toward using technology for digital forms of asset management, it is essential that activities such as smoke testing are recorded electronically for future use. Collecting data on smoke testing and other maintenance and inspection activities can help operators pinpoint common locations that experience leaks or defects. The data can also be used to highlight locations which need repairs and help track repair progress.  Without technology, this data would be lost with the experience of the worker who completed it. An inexpensive ($0.99) tool that utility systems can use to begin collecting this data is Solocator. This app can be used as a first step toward a geographic information system (GIS)-based wastewater inventory. It is simply a camera that stamps each of the pictures with GPS coordinates, project names, watermarks, time, date, and other optional information such as bearing and altitude. These photos can then be exported in multiple different formats for sharing or archiving. The geographical data can also be exported to a .CSV format for easy incorporation into your GIS software, such as ArcGIS, later.

Some illustrative steps for using Solocator are included below:

Download the Solocator app.
Adjust the settings to include the desired data.

Add watermarks, descriptions, and/or Project names.

Take photos of the smoke test.
Export your photos to begin a database of locations needing repair..CSV output:

Map output:

Asset Management is an essential part of a water system’s continued growth and is continuously changing as time passes Solocator is one of many affordable tools available to help communities start tracking asset management. Incorporating a sustainable data retrieval plan will help systems accommodate future employees and gain a more expansive understanding of their utilities.

This Drop of Knowledge (DOK) was funded through our EPA NPA 2 22 – 24 grant. 

February 21, 2024
Five Core Questions to Answer for Effective Management of System Assets
Asset Management | 5 MIN READ

Five Core Questions to Answer for Effective Management of System Assets

Asset management is more than simply “managing one’s assets.” Asset management goes beyond managing capital equipment (pumps, motors, etc.) and taking care of equipment. More accurately, asset management is a comprehensive, integrated process for maintaining system infrastructure assets and equipment for the most effective, least-cost allocation of resources, in order to sustain the utility over time.

If you read that and say to yourself, “I’m already doing that,” you’re probably right, at least in part. True asset management takes more into account than just equipment alone; it looks at each piece of equipment in a big-picture, “whole life” way that includes planning, financing, assessing risks, maintaining it, record-keeping and prioritizing replacement. Asset management may seem time-intensive and costly, but it is a long-view investment that has helped many communities save money over the long term. By being proactive versus reactive and not waiting until something breaks to replace it, systems are able to often able to provide more affordable, reliable service with fewer negative impacts for customers and/or service interruptions.

Asset management looks at every aspect of an asset during its entire life span from planning and design to obsolescence and removal. To do this requires asking and answering five critical “core” questions, identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


Answering these questions requires a full inventory of the system, in as much detail as you can manage, along with an assessment of the condition of each piece of equipment and the consequences to the system if that piece of equipment should fail. The inventory step is probably the most labor-intensive, time-consuming part of the process. Risk and condition assessments require two judgments to be made: what is the likelihood of an asset failing, and what will it mean to the system if it does fail? Each asset’s risk assessment must be based on two components: the likelihood of and consequences of failure. The risk of failure coupled with the age and expected life of an asset are what help to determine the asset’s condition and priority for potential action.


Level of Service (LOS) goals should be measurable, attainable and realistic while just far enough ahead of the present reality to represent a target requiring effort. LOS goals should be stated in quantifiable terms. To say, “I want my system to be run in the most efficient way possible,” might be a simple mission statement, but there is no way to measure performance or achievement of that goal. A more measurable goal might be, “I want the system to be run with no more than 1 (or 2, or 3) water outages in a 12-month period.” That can be both measured and achieved.


Here one should juxtapose the results of the risk assessment with information such as the level of redundancy for an individual asset, whether a bypass or an alternative is available or whether it can be repaired or re-built instead of replaced. All these issues, along with the likelihood and consequences of an asset failing, go into determining how critical an asset is to the system.


Answering this core question requires some knowledge of more than just what a piece of equipment costs to install. One must also have some idea of the asset’s operating costs over its useful life, as well as some way to estimate the cost to remove or rebuild it when that useful life is over. If an asset has a maintenance contract, that contract amount is part of those life cycle costs. If, however, the asset is a piece of pipe, then the minimum life cycle costs might amount to almost nothing over the life of the pipe. The point is that different assets will have different cost centers as well as different life spans.


Answering this question requires an examination of the reserves available for self-funding asset restoration/rebuilding/replacement, as well as adequacy of revenues over time. It’s important to remember that funding, in this context, pertains to the dollars needed to maintain the level of service goals that have been set as well as the cost of asset maintenance and replacement. Anything less than the levels needed for both functions could mean that the system is not operating on a sustainable basis. And in these days of scarce funding, sustainability is everything. Outside funding programs rarely fund all of a replacement or upgrade project.

Whatever your funding plans are for sustaining your system, having a plan in place is a large part of the battle. Asset management is the campaign itself. A key part of the strategy is engaging decision-makers and building buy-in for proper asset management and investments that may need to be made. The campaign can succeed with a sound plan, based on solid management practices, starting with these five core questions.

Search EPA Publications online by topic or title:
EPA STEP – Simple Tools for Effective Performance – Guides:
“Asset Management: A Handbook for Small Water Systems”
“Strategic Planning: A Handbook for Small Water Systems”
“Taking Stock of Your Water System: A Simple Asset Inventory for Very Small Water Systems”

Other EPA Guides:
“Asset Management for Local Officials”
“Asset Management: A Best Practices Guide”
CUPSS Software

September 28, 2021
Budgeting and Financial Management

Budgeting and Financial Management

Basics of Financial Management Guidebook
RCAP’s guidebook for small communities on financial policies and controls, budgeting, and monitoring of financial performance.
The Basics of Financial Management for Small-community Utilities: A Webcast on Financial Management (Part 1)
A recorded webcast that is a companion to RCAP’s The Basics of Financial Management for Small-community Utilities
The Basics of Financial Management for Small-community Utilities: A Webcast on Financial Management (Part 2)
A recorded webcast that is a companion to RCAP’s The Basics of Financial Management for Small-community Utilities
Budget How-Tos
This document includes tips on creating a budget for a water board.
Budget Worksheet for Water Systems
A worksheet in Microsoft Excel format that provides a general overview of the annual budget. Calculations are performed automatically within the Excel program.
RCAC: Financial Planning: A Guide for Water and Wastewater Systems
These guidebooks address core issues regarding water system sustainability: auditing water use to reduce water losses and increase system efficiency, financial planning and management to ensure sufficient revenues to sustain operations, and asset management to allow the system to provide a sustained level of service at the lowest life cycle cost.
EPA: Water Utility COVID-19 Financial Impact Tool
A tool that can help drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities assess the financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the utility’s cashflow.

UNC Environmental Finance Center: Tools To Assist Water Utilities With Financial Decision Making
The EFC at UNC has created several free tools to assist water utilities in addressing the challenges commonly seen in communities.

March 30, 2021
Rate Setting & Affordability

Rate Setting & Affordability

Formulate Great Rates Guidebook
RCAP’s step-by-step guide on setting rates for your water system that cover expenses, are fair and equitable and are easy to administer.
Formulate Great Rates: A Webcast on Setting Rates in Small-Community Utilities (Part 1)
A recorded webcast that is a companion to RCAP’s Formulate Great Rates: The Guide to Conducting a Rate Study for a Water System.
Formulate Great Rates: A Webcast on Setting Rates in Small-Community Utilities (Part 2)
A recorded webcast that is a companion to RCAP’s Formulate Great Rates: The Guide to Conducting a Rate Study for a Water System.
Rate Guide Supplemental Materials (Excel)
Excel workbook supplement to the Formulate Great Rates guidebook.
RCAP Blog: Three Things to Do Before a Rate Change
A blog post outlining three steps to take before a rate change.
UNC Environmental Finance Center: Tools To Assist Water Utilities With Financial Decision Making
The EFC at UNC has created several free tools to assist water utilities in addressing the challenges commonly seen in communities.

UNC Environmental Finance Center: Finance Dashboards
Rates Dashboards are designed to assist utility managers and local officials to compare and analyze water and wastewater rates against multiple characteristics, including utility finances, system characteristics, customer base socioeconomic conditions, geography, and history.

EPA: Compendium of Drinking Water and Wastewater Customer Assistance Programs
A document describing the benefits, implementation, and examples of customer assistance programs (CAPs) throughout the country.

UNC Environmental Finance Center: Navigating Legal Pathways To Rate-Funded Customer Assistance Programs
This project focuses on the legality of how customer assistance programs can be financed by the utility.

RCAP Educational Program Materials

Webinar: Understanding and Improving Your Water System’s Bill Collection Rate
This webinar explored calculations to measure the bill collection rate, how that rate is tied to the rate setting process, and strategies to improve the rate.

March 30, 2021
Water Loss Control

Water Loss Control

AWWA: Water Loss Control
The latest version of AWWA’s industry-standard free water audit software.
Southwest Environmental Finance Center:  Water Loss Switchboard
A repository of documentation and tools related to measuring and addressing non-revenue water.
Southwest Environmental Finance Center: The Water Audit Handbook for Small Drinking Water Systems
Guide to help small water systems prepare a water audit using the AWWA/IWA Water Audit Method.
EPA: Water Audits and Water Loss Control for Public Water Systems
Documents introducing water loss control and information on the use of water audits in identifying and controlling water losses in public water systems.
Alliance for Water Efficiency: Utility Water Loss Control
Tools and resources on the water audit and data validity including an interactive map of state-level water loss laws in the United States.
Texas Water Development Board: Water Loss Audit Resources
Guidance documents and calculators to help complete a water audit. These items are generally applicable to utilities across the country.
Southwest Environmental Finance Center: Break Rate Analysis Tool
Interactive web tool that compares annual main breaks from your system to the US/Canadian average break rates for 7 pipe materials.
Missouri Rural Water Association: Water Loss Tracking Tools
Interactive web tools to calculate the volume of water lost from different types of breaks, well drawdowns, hydrant and pipe flushes, and other activities.

March 11, 2021
Veterans Working in Water

Veterans Working in Water

EPA: Water Workforce Veteran Promotion
Tips for water and wastewater utilities considering hiring veterans and promote interagency activities to improve career opportunities for disabled Veterans in the water sector.
EPA: Guide for Applying Military Occupational Specialties (M.O.S.) to Civilian Drinking Water and Wastewater Operations
Guide highlighting relevant MOSs and tips for water and wastewater utilities considering hiring veterans.
AWWA: Veterans Workforce Resources
The Veterans Workforce Initiative has developed toolkits for employers looking to hire Veterans and flyers for Veterans interested in the water sector.
U.S. Department of Labor: Veterans’ Employment and Training Service
The Veterans’ Employment and Training Service (VETS) is committed to helping America’s veterans and separating service members by preparing them for meaningful careers, providing employment resources and expertise, and protecting their employment rights.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: Veterans Employment Toolkit
In this toolkit, you can learn about Veterans and the military, such as what Veterans bring to the workplace and what the military structure and culture is like.
Work for Water: Veterans Focus
This site provides resources for veterans to find careers in the water industry.
U.S. Department of Labor:
This webpage provides resources for veterans and military spouses.
Career One Stop: American Job Centers
American Job Centers (AJCs) provide free help to job seekers for a variety of career and employment-related needs
U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation: Hiring our Heroes
Hiring Our Heroes is a nationwide initiative to help veterans, transitioning service members, and military spouses find meaningful employment opportunities.
This site provides resources for employers looking to recruit veterans.
Disabled American Veterans: National Employment Program
DAV will sponsor job fairs including virtual events, to connect veterans with employers nationwide who are committed to hiring them.
RallyPoint: Business Services
Social media site for employers to engage the military community.
Career One Stop: Civilian-to-Military Occupation Translator
Identify relevant military experience by matching your civilian job opening to military careers that use similar skills.
O*Net OnLine: Military Occupational Classification Crosswalk Search
Allows for users to find civilian-equivalent occupations for military codes and titles.
USAA: Veteran Employment Roadmap
This site has created and compiled the best resources for hiring veterans and organized them in three categories: prepare, recruit, empower.

RCAP Educational Program Materials

Webinar: Continuing to Serve: How to Recruit Retiring Military Personnel into the Water Sector
This webinar explored how skills learned in the military can be an ideal fit for drinking water systems, while utility work can be an ideal fit for veterans transitioning back to civilian life. The webinar also described the process of how retiring military personnel find new jobs and offered practical advice for water systems to get their job postings in the hands of veterans.

March 11, 2021
Water Finance and Management Libraries, Blogs & Podcasts

Water Finance and Management Libraries, Blogs & Podcasts

RCAP’s A Drop of Knowledge
RCAP’s monthly online newsletter with information for small, rural and tribal drinking water and wastewater systems Resource Library
Portal for information from across the water industry that saves time, answers questions, and provides opportunities for ongoing learning at your own pace.
Edmunds GovTech: Utility Information Pipeline
Blog on water and wastewater financial management and billing.
IB Environmental: Ripple Effects – An Environmental Blog
This blog aims to increase the appreciation for water resources and promote sound environmental policy through research, education, and action.
Manny Teodoro: Blog
This blog discusses water policy, management, and finance.

Southwest Environmental Finance Center: Blog
Blog on drinking water and wastewater technical, managerial, and financial capacity.
UNC Environmental Finance Center: The Environmental Finance Blog
Blog to support communities interested in sustainable and innovative financing mechanisms for delivering environmental services such as drinking water and wastewater.
Water in Real Life Podcast
Podcast from the H2duO of Rogue Water Lab focused on communicating about water through story.
Words on Water Podcast
A podcast featuring conversations with influential and interesting people from the water sector and news from the Water Environment Federation.
Waterloop Podcast
Podcasts on conversations about water solutions.
The Water Values Podcast
This podcast series explores water issues from a variety of perspectives with the goal of uncovering the true value of water.
Water We Talking About? Podcast
A podcast for water and wastewater technology vendors and service providers.

November 5, 2020
Energy Management and Conservation Resources

Energy Management and Conservation Resources

Sustainable Infrastructure for Small System Public Services: A Planning and Resource Guide
This planning and resources guide includes a step-by-step process for utility decision makers, staff and community members wanting to operate increasingly efficient utilities.
Five Things You can do to Save on Energy in your Utility
This document aims to help understand your facilities and your energy usage, you can make good decisions and implement positive changes for your community.
Energy Efficiency at Wastewater Treatment Facilities
This video presents to those in small, rural communities who are responsible for managing and overseeing wastewater treatment systems – boards or other governing bodies, staff and decision-makers – opportunities for saving on energy costs (many opportunities in the video also apply to drinking water facilities).
National Rural Water Association: Energy Efficiency Program
NRWA’s Energy Efficiency Technical Assistance Program is designed to promote energy efficient practices in small water and wastewater systems, including energy assessments and recommended energy efficient practices and technologies.
NC State University: Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency
A database of loan and grant programs available to fund energy efficiency upgrades.

EPA: Energy Use Assessment at Water and Wastewater Systems
Guides for an Excel-based tool that small- to medium-sized systems can use to conduct a utility bill and equipment analysis to assess individual baseline energy use and costs.
Energy Star Portfolio Manager
An online tool to measure and track energy and water consumption, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. Use it to benchmark the performance of one building or a whole portfolio of buildings, all in a secure online environment.
New Hampshire DES: Guidance for the Energy Efficient Design of Drinking Water System Infrastructure
The document is intended to be used as guidance to improve the energy efficient design of water system pumping stations, infrastructure and water treatment facility upgrades.
UNC Environmental Finance Center: Electricity Baseline Builder for Water Utilities
This tool allows you to see how much electricity your water system is currently using and track how much you save, or have already saved, with new energy efficiency projects.

November 5, 2020
Mapping Resources

Mapping Resources

ESRI: Mapping Small and Rural Water Systems
EPA: Drinking Water Mapping Application to Protect Source Waters (DWMAPS) Data Layers

November 5, 2020