Launch Slideshow

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A regional plan for seismic security

A regional plan for seismic security

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    Map: Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency

    CLICK HERE FOR AN ENLARGED VERSION San Francisco Public Utilities Commission wholesale customers created the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency in 2003 to weigh in on plans to secure the region's water supply. The agency, whose members serve 1.7 million people, supported the commission's 2002 capital improvement program and is monitoring its implementation.

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    Map: San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

    Eighty-five percent of the drinking water for 2.5 million people comes from Sierra Nevada snowmelt stored in the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which was created in 1923 by damming the Tuolumne River in Yosemite National Park. Silicon Valley's intense growth in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s added a layer of complexity to seismically retrofitting a system originally built across farmlands and open space. San Francisco's $4.6 billion Water System Improvement Plan is structured to meet supply objectives until 2018 and improve delivery reliability through 2030.

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    Photo: Robin Scheswohl

    A 17-million-gallon reservoir in Alameda County's Sunol Valley, where three sources of water converge and are treated.

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Making software work for all stakeholders

Our construction management bureau conducted an exhaustive analysis and documentation of the construction-business processes that would benefit from an integrated information system to manage construction and contract documents. This analysis reviewed existing and intended procedures and mapped them onto the functionality the CMIS provides.

Based on the business-process documents, Oracle's Construction Management application was customized to take advantage of the integration of data within projects and across the entire program. Procedures were developed from the business process reports that defined the information maintenance roles of construction management teams and contractors.

Because contractors play an integral role in the initiation of information requests, submittals, and payment applications, the construction contract requires that contractors attend training along with the project's management team. The city provides the necessary licenses, which is included in contractors' bid documentation.

In late 2009 we asked five industry experts to analyze our efforts and incorporated their suggestions, including:

  • Holding frequent, in-person status meetings between the commission's assistant general manager–infrastructure, WSIP director, WSIP construction deputydirector, program construction management advisor, and others (as appropriate)
  • Housing key program and construction management teams in the same location
  • Preparing a rolling four-quarter look-ahead that focuses on the highest-priority items to be accomplished in the upcoming quarter
  • Reporting percent complete in the monthly report by progress against schedule and budget (earned versus planned dollar amounts)
  • Reviewing city fraud policies to ensure they'll be effective in such a large program.

Today, nearly a dozen construction-management teams from a wide and disparate population of city, consultant, and contractor organizations collaborate online through our password-protected portal, including 10 construction management firms, more than a dozen construction contractors, and seven separate city and customer entities. Our efforts received a Construction Management Association of America Project Achievement Award in 2010.

Theory versus practical application

The first significant test of all these standards came in 2008 with the advertisement of the first regional project: the $57.5-million New Crystal Springs Bypass Tunnel in San Mateo County. This 4,200-foot-long, 12.2-foot-diameter asset was the benchmark for adjusting operational procedures for all soon-to-be-advertised projects. A February 2011 report commissioned from Parsons deemed it "an example of a tunneling project that has gone extremely well and is on schedule."

Two more tunnels and several pipeline, treatment plant, and reservoir projects are under way. With so many large and complex projects in construction, it goes without saying that we'll encounter our share of challenges in the field. This is to be expected, and our job is to tackle these challenges as efficiently and expeditiously as possible. So far, the reasons for contract changes fall into four categories:

174 water system shutdowns in 13 years

Five years before the first Water System Improvement Program project broke ground in 2002, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission's Water Supply and Treatment Division began figuring out how to take sections of the 167-mile Hetch Hetchy Regional Water System off-line without interrupting service to 2.5 million people. Many of the shutdowns and hot taps may be performed only during the wet season.

This February, a report by engineering firm Parsons deemed the coordination of construction managers, designers, contractors, and operations employees "a model for how to do it right. This effort has largely been under the radar because it's been so successful. Water Enterprise staff has become more efficient through repeated success of shutdown processes."

Their process addresses changes in real time using Oracle's Primavera P6 scheduling software and Excel spreadsheets. At the time, 40 shutdowns had been completed and 24 were planned for the next six months. Despite the retirement of several operations liaisons this year, the peak year for construction activity with 51 shutdowns, all have gone smoothly.

As the mega-program nears its December 2015 completion date, 28 shutdowns are scheduled for 2012, seven for 2013 and 2014, and three for 2015.

Unforeseen site conditions. It's neither cost-effective nor physically feasible to perform geotechnical investigation in all areas of a project. In some tunnels we've encountered different soil conditions from what's assumed in the contract documents for bidding purposes, which has impacted the schedule and even the type of equipment we use onsite. Working in our pipelines, which are in urban and industrialized areas, we often encounter unexpected contamination that was previously unknown.

New regulatory requirements, such as those imposed for stormwater management. The migration of endangered/protected species to our project site and unusual weather patterns, things over which we have no control, also impact schedule and cost.

Discrepancies between what's shown on drawings and what's found in the field. With contract specifications and drawings totaling several thousand pages on some projects, it's impossible to produce conflict-free documents. On the other side of this spectrum, with some of our facilities built in the late 1800s or early 1900s, we don't always have the benefit of accurate as-built drawings.

Requests by our own people. As we perform work, the commission's operations division may discover the need for additional work that's urgently needed. We try to control these to the extent that we can, but often it's much more efficient to conduct the work under the existing contract.

We reached the peak of construction in June with 71 projects worth $2.3 billion having completed construction. In the past fiscal year, the program completed construction of 30 local projects and 18 regional projects; 86% of local and 39% of regional projects are complete and 9% of local and 43% of regional projects are in construction. But while the number of projects is as high as it will be, the value of construction taking place will more than double for the next two years. Average monthly spending will exceed $60 million.

At the end of the fiscal year, we revised the program to align the budget and schedule to its current forecast. The number of projects forecasted to complete in calendar year 2015 increased from two to 11. We moved five local projects to our Water Enterprise Capital Improvement Program. At present, more than $1.5 billion worth of projects are in construction and have secured all funds required to complete the program in late 2015.

The forecasted total cost of $4.593 billion is $7.5 million more than the 2011 approved budget, but cost savings on recent contracts have increased programwide reserve funds from $161.4 million to $167.6 million as we continue to receive multiple bids and projects are being awarding at nearly 20% below the engineer's estimate.

While some of the largest projects — such as the first tunnel under San Francisco Bay and the Calaveras Dam Replacement — are just beginning construction, activity is beginning to shift from notice to proceed to dedication ceremonies.

The New Crystal Springs Bypass Tunnel was completed this spring under budget and ahead of schedule. The seismic retrofit of San Francisco's second largest reservoir, University Mound, which will supply northern San Mateo County residents in an emergency, was returned to service in June below budget and on time. In the San Joaquin region, we commissioned the state's largest ultraviolet water treatment facility nine months ahead of the federal regulation requirement.

Up next: 30-year sewer improvement program

With most major water projects under way, we've turned our attention to the recently awarded Sewer System Improvement Program (SSIP).

Like our water program, it's the culmination of seven years of planning efforts and workshops to address systemwide challenges using lessons we've learned from our massive water improvement program. Parsons and AECOM will provide the program management over the next 15 years.

Also like our water program, it's a collection of capital improvements that address localized flooding, odors, and seismic reliability. Projects include a new tunnel and a biosolids digester facility at a plant that treats two-thirds of San Francisco's stormwater and wastewater.

In February, a report we commissioned from Parsons cautioned that the overlap of necessary resources for both programs "requires special attention to balance resources and ensure the water program retains staff needed for closing out the projects in 2015. With both programs under the authority of the assistant general manager of infrastructure, we're confident it will receive the priority it needs."