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Case Study: Justifying the Costs of Upgrading Aging, Underfunded Water Infrastructure in Rural Counties

Learn how we helped a California county justify an increase in funding to improve its water and wastewater facilities.

The Challenge

A California county, located in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada, identified a need to improve their water and wastewater treatment infrastructure. The county’s entire infrastructure was severely underfunded, and the county had not been able to increase water rates in over ten years since most of their residents lived in rural areas with a median household income of approximately $45,000. Additionally, the county did not have enough funds to save or invest in capital improvement projects which made it difficult for the county to hire adequate personnel to maintain equipment and offset maintenance costs.

All but one of the county’s facilities had been operating at a loss since 2015, and many of them operated at that level for longer. Local leaders needed a long-term sustainable path to secure increased funding for their facilities. The county sought out a solution to cover the necessary projected operations and capital costs that would be needed to sustain the existing water and wastewater infrastructure for the next ten years.

Pinnacle's Solution

The county relied on Pinnacle to perform an asset inventory for each of the county’s districts. The designers, operators, and engineers assigned to the project had experience assessing some of the most challenging and high-risk facilities in the country. Over a three-year period, Pinnacle’s expertise combined with the design engineer’s familiarity of local facility operations ensured that the facilities received an efficient and reliable condition assessment of their assets, along with recommendations on how they could improve the performance of their facilities.

During site visits, the Pinnacle team focused on reviewing equipment conditions, maintenance practices, documentation, and bio-chemical conditions that characterized process reliability. They provided general information regarding the condition of the assets, an overview of O&M documentation, and recommendations for improving the current state of the O&M water services program. Although each facility was burdened with its own challenges such as accessibility issues, design flaws, and low influent loading, they all shared common problems with documentation and accountability of O&M practices.

During the process interviews, Pinnacle went line-by-line to identify one-time opportunities that would help the county save a significant portion of their budget and ensure job security for its employees. At the conclusion of the assessments, Pinnacle delivered a condition assessment report based on their findings which provided recommendations on how the county could improve the condition of their facilities, primarily through an increase in water rates and a change to staffing strategy.

Pinnacle recommended that the county adopt a rate increase for all communities and identified potential funding assistance programs that would help the county facilitate necessary studies and subsequent capital improvements. In order to justify a rate increase, Pinnacle’s condition assessment included recommendations to mitigate the financial impact on the county’s residents. The first recommendation was to gradually increase the rates over a five-year period. The second was to implement a transparent public outreach strategy that would explain the reasons and costs basis for the proposed rate increases through flyers and community meetings.

Additionally, Pinnacle proposed staffing recommendations that would help the county balance the resources required to maintain all of its facilities. During the assessments, Pinnacle had identified that the facilities lacked sufficient labor for the operation and maintenance of the facilities. This lack of time and resources was partially responsible for failures of documentation required to sustain the functionality and performance of the facilities in question.

With Data-Driven Reliability as the core framework for each of Pinnacle’s solutions, this project falls into the Intelligence and Strategic Decisions steps.


As a result of Pinnacle’s condition assessment report, the county was able to justify:

  1. Residential water and wastewater rate increases in two districts, which increased the amount the county received from residential monthly rates by 100% in the first year.
  2. Staffing needs for the operation and maintenance of its facilities which included accurate recommendations on how many operators should manage each facility.
  3. A capital improvement plan based on Pinnacle’s data-driven set of recommendations from an existing RCM analysis determining the criticality of equipment.

Additionally, the county received a final tech report which outlined the assessments and criticality of all tech equipment, as well as a rate comparison study based on data.

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