Building a Defensible
Capital Improvement Program
By Jacob Young, P.E., and Shem Liechty, P.E.
MOST WATER UTILITIES HAVE HAD AT LEAST ONE MASTER PLAN REPORT THAT WAS PLACED
on a shelf after the first review and never opened again. This is an indication of a failed planning effort.
A proven planning framework that generates dynamic capital improvement programs (CIPs) facilitates
a different outcome. Utilities like Weber Basin Water Conservancy District (WBWCD) and Jordan Valley Water
Conservancy District (JVWCD) have used a forward-thinking planning process that is resulting in reduced CIP
costs, developing projects that serve multiple objectives, and furthering their missions.
14 | ROCKY MOUNTAIN WATER JULY 2019
Value of an effective CIP
Failed master plans, or failing to maintain a current master plan,
represents lost opportunity for utilities to make the most effective
use of available funds. A utility’s opportunity for cost savings
decreases through each stage of the project life cycle (Figure 1).
The planning stage is where a utility has the flexibility needed
to creatively develop projects that serve multiple objectives,
meet system needs for the duration of their useful life, and/or
leverage partnerships with neighboring utilities.
Flexibility is reduced significantly as the project progresses to
the implementation stages of design and construction. By the
time a detailed scope of work has been developed for a request
for proposal for engineering services, the design engineer is
inherently limited from looking for opportunities to achieve
objectives beyond that scope of work. For example, an engineer
charged with designing a new pipeline along Street A would be
limited from knowing that replacing the failing pipe four streets
over, in Street F, would be a more effective use of capital if it had
not been identified in the planning stage of the project.
Figure 1. Potential for Cost Savings in a Project Life-Cycle
The difference between success and failure
Moving away from master plans that fill space on a bookshelf
to plans that serve as valuable resources in day-to-day
decisions is facilitated by a planning framework based on
three guiding principles.