Lead Service Lines: Data Transparency for a Community in Action

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Benton Harbor has committed to replacing all lead service lines within 18 months. This photo shows field staff performing a replacement.

Along the coast of Lake Michigan, the city of Benton Harbor, Michigan, has, until recently, faced steep resource challenges in completing a much-needed, large-scale lead service line replacement project.

Benton Harbor is not alone in the challenge it faces in replacing existing lead service lines. Lead service lines are still prevalent across the country and in the State of Michigan in particular.

According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “As many as 12 million lead pipes — and possibly more — carry drinking water to the homes of up to 22 million or more people across the country.” These lead service lines have long been recognized as the primary contributor to lead in drinking water.

Benton Harbor’s water distribution system is more than 100 years old, and many homes were built before the 1960s. Water from the city’s water plant doesn’t have lead in it; however, many of the water service lines from the property line to the homes are made of lead or have lead components, as do some public water service lines.

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Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad, Contractor Donnie Meeks, and U.S. Representative for Michigan, Fred Upton, onsite in Benton Harbor, Michigan.

With funding from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the state of Michigan — and a commitment from Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer to replace all service lines within 18 months — the rejuvenated replacement project kicked off in early November 2021. The city engineering firm for Benton Harbor, Abonmarche, set about coordinating lead service line replacement efforts for a project that would be operating for many months at a break-neck pace.

Abonmarche’s goal was to create a solution to track and share the progress of a large and fast-moving lead service line replacement project. As an added benefit of the project, data collected will be incorporated into the comprehensive asset management program being developed for the city.

By blending Abonmarche’s digital solutions expertise and solid foundation of geographic information system (GIS) knowledge and experience into our engineering work, we were able to elevate this high-profile project to an efficient, successful operation that demonstrates best practices. The model and approach we are developing for Benton Harbor will serve as a precedent for future projects in other communities across the Midwest.

Implementing Esri’s Lead Service Line Inventory Solution

Deploying an Esri Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) Project Delivery service and ArcGIS Online for the city, Abonmarche was able to quickly set up a water service line inventory. The deployment was based on existing water account records, record inspections, and previously identified replacements, making use of Esri’s ArcGIS Field Maps mobile app. Data was then shared with the public in real time through the ArcGIS Hub community engagement site and associated dashboard.

The dashboard and hub site have changed the face of a critical community health initiative. Benton Harbor’s ability to share accurate, up-to-date information with the public has established transparency from the project’s onset, setting a foundation for building trust.

Abonmarche used Esri’s Lead Service Line Inventory solution as a base framework to configure and customize the project’s specific needs and goals. This industry-specific solution helped to easily set up the necessary data layers, maps, and applications, enabling Benton Harbor to go above and beyond to communicate with the community.

“Working in GIS was the perfect solution for this type of project. We wanted something thorough and reliable, yet easy to deploy in order to keep up with the pace of the project. Seeing inspections and construction results in real time has been key to monitoring issues as well as sharing results. Recording and publishing the progress with GIS has been so much more efficient than the processes of the past.”

Garrick Garcia, GIS Technician, Abonmarche

Esri’s Lead Service Line Inventory solution came with a number of built-in maps. Abonmarche configured those maps to fit the project’s requirements, then integrated them into the ArcGIS Field Maps mobile app to become part of the final workflow solution. Then, using the Project Manager Web App from the ArcGIS Solutions collection, Abonmarche designed the ability to track which service lines have been replaced, which service lines have yet to be replaced, and a host of other valuable information. Finally, several custom web applications and dashboards were created to interact with the out-of-the-box solutions apps so that additional project requirements could be easily managed. This suite of web maps and applications has provided contractors, inspectors, project managers, and office administrators with the ability to communicate directly and coordinate the work that is being performed.

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The ArcGIS Field Maps mobile application is the key piece for logging mobile work into the GIS.

The hub provided by the Esri solution was a great template that was modified to show the information the city wanted. Multiple pages were added to the site with embedded content and links to informational PDF documents and required forms. 

Meeting Project Goals

Alongside the Lead Service Line Inventory solution, the Abonmarche team implemented a host of other supporting Esri solutions and applications. This provided a strong foundation to jump-start the project while required customization and applications were being developed to meet all of Benton Harbor’s organizational goals. Various applications and dashboards were created to provide the ability to

  • Organize and track all the required Right of Entry (ROE) permission forms, as well as all feedback received from the community about the project.
  • Log mobile work into the GIS.
  • Enter service line information into the GIS from the office environment.
  • Quickly track work that was being done and categorize that work to quantify the results for informative purposes.
  • Share real-time data with the public in an easy-to-digest method.
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The Administrative Desktop App is used for Right of Entry form tracking. Lead service line replacement cannot be completed on private property without an ROE form.

Administrative Desktop App

The custom Administrative Desktop App enables the project team to organize and track all required Right of Entry permission forms, as well as all feedback received from the community about the project. As part of the process of updating service lines, the City of Benton Harbor is required to collect a Water Service Line Agreement Form from each property owner, granting permission to enter the property and complete the service line replacement work. Once a permission form is completed, the data is collected in an app that will then be accessed directly by the contractors, letting them know that they can move forward with work on each property.

To develop this app, Abonmarche took the concept of the Office Editor Web App (used to administer all data and work being performed) and refined the editing tools and pop-ups to only display and edit fields pertinent to the information office administrative staff would be receiving from property owners. Two new view layers were created—Right of Entry and Comments—each with a unique symbology to show the ROE status and if the comments were addressed. Each view layer only displays and allows the editing of selected fields. In the app, each layer can be turned on or off depending on what information the person inputting data is receiving.

When editing the Right of Entry layer, the editor tool enables staff to indicate when an ROE form was sent and whether it was received and also upload a copy of the form as an attachment.

To track comments, a related table was set up that can log multiple comments for one address. The related table shows up in the editor tool when editing the comments layer and allows new comments to be logged. The layer is symbolized by a field designating if the comments have been addressed or not.

This app ensures the integrity of data by providing users with exactly what they need and ensuring that each user can only update what is required.

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The Project Manager Web App is used to track Right of Entry permissions.

Project Manager Web App

Using the built-in framework included in the Lead Service Line Inventory solution, project managers can track if an ROE form was received for every property. A Right of Entry form allows the contractor to enter a residence to make a final service line connection. Without this permission, work cannot be completed. Knowing which homes have given ROE permission is an essential tool for this project. Using ArcGIS Pro, Abonmarche was able to load the web map that feeds the Project Manager Web App, then use the expression builder to code a unique symbology expression to display scheduled replacements—and if an ROE form was received or not. This allows scheduling which replacements can be made, ensuring that the field crews and inspectors are performing the correct work on the correct asset.

Field Maps Mobile App

The ArcGIS Field Maps mobile application is the key piece for logging mobile work into the GIS. Web maps are set up for both contractors and inspectors that can be viewed and edited within the Field Maps mobile app. Using view layers enabled only fields relevant to the data collector to be displayed, and the forms feature within Field Maps allows the data entry fields to be organized into categorized drop-down menus for quick navigation and legibility. Collecting data at the point of inspection with Filed Maps is the driver for the rest of the data sharing and publishing abilities. Data integrity and data quality are maintained through required fields and domain values.

Office Editor Web App

The Lead Service Line Inventory solution provided an excellent tool for entering service line information into the GIS from the office environment. Whenever existing records are received or new data insights are made, they can be easily entered into the Lead Service Line Inventory by office staff. The tool can also be used to correct errors that may have occurred with mobile data inputs. Like the Project Manager Web App, symbology was updated to show some unique customer-side statuses, including “customer-side not constructed” or “out of scope” because there was no current customer. The web map that feeds the Office Editor Web App was loaded into the ArcGIS Pro desktop program and the expression builder was used to set a new unique symbology as well as update the symbology template displayed on the editor tool in the web app. The Office Editor Web App is used to administer all data and work being performed within the Lead Service Line Replacement program.

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The Service Line Recent Verification tracking dashboard enables staff to quickly track work that is being done and to categorize that work to quantify results for informative purposes.

Recent Verification Tracking Dashboard

One of the top goals was to be able to quickly track work that was being done and categorize that work in order to quantify the results for informative purposes. Esri’s list widget enabled data shown on the map to be sorted by verification date, which will always show the most recent inspection at the top, listing the address and date. An indicator widget above that list displays the number of services shown on the map. Then, we applied a series of category filters that provide the address, number of services in that category, and map locations for any given category. This has been useful in making quick data checks and ensuring that any issues are identified early before they can become a problem.

Real-Time Data and Real-Time Transparency for a Community in Need

The Esri solutions implemented enabled the data to be tracked digitally and more accurately in a way that made the most sense. It also allows Benton Harbor to share real-time data with the public in an easy-to-digest method.

The dashboard, available on the City of Benton Harbor website, is updated in real time to reflect current progress and includes a map with the location of each house, along with two charts showing the materials each service line is made of on the city side and customer side. The dashboard also shows the dates and addresses of the service lines replaced in the past 30 days, offering a valuable monthly snapshot to the community.

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The lead service line replacement dashboard, available to the public around the clock. enables Benton Harbor to share real-time data with the community in an easy-to-digest method.

“Once we published the project dashboard, we immediately received favorable responses from state, local, and federal agencies and various media outlets about how helpful it was to them for their functions regarding the project,” says Jason Marquardt, senior project manager at Abonmarche. “It has been a great resource that was easy to implement and will be a key tool for this project as we see it through to completion.”

“This Lead Service Line Inventory solution has saved our team and Benton Harbor hundreds of valuable hours that can now be spent in other ways. Without using GIS and its accompanying apps and tools, our contractors would be manually filling out forms and sending them to us in bulk; our team would have to then parse through and manually input that data into a spreadsheet to compare with our list of active accounts and manually generate weekly reports of work done,” says Garrick Garcia, GIS technician at Abonmarche.

“There is a tremendous amount of forward momentum to getting these pipes out of the ground as a key part of removing the threat of lead from the city’s drinking water,” Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad said in a press announcement shortly after the dashboard went live. “This dashboard gives residents a window into the aggressive work being done throughout the city.”

“I believe the state-of-the-art Lead Service Line Replacement dashboard is an outstanding example of how technology can provide continuous up-to-date information to the public on whatever they want to know about what is happening with a project like the City of Benton Harbor’s Lead Service Line Replacement program,” added Alex Little, Director – Community & Economic Development / Assistant City Manager at the City of Benton Harbor. “The city is pleased to have this resource available to the public on our website.”

Using the new system, all work is shown in real time, updates on work completed are shown instantly, and the GIS data can be used to autogenerate any needed documentation. We now have the ability to work digitally and communicate more accurate data, quicker. We can now show the public our tangible progress — eliminating paper updates, transposing information, and avoiding redundant data entry, so that citizens can see the work happening in real time.

This article is also published on the ESRI website, viewable at:

https://www.esri.com/en-us/lg/industry/water/stories/lead-service-lines-data-transparency-for-a-community-in-action

The State Revolving Fund: An Abonmarche Expertise

Wastewater improvement is an expensive, time-consuming investment that does not happen often.

Indiana’s State Revolving Fund (SRF) program provides low-interest loans to Indiana communities for projects that improve wastewater and drinking water infrastructure. This program helps to protect the environment and public health.

Indiana’s State Revolving Fund (SRF) can unlock valuable funding for your large-scale projects, and Abonmarche can help get the ball rolling. Using the SRF is a great way to understand your community’s needs and vulnerabilities, start making changes, and begin to plan for the future. Taking advantage of the SRF is a great way to finance your community’s projects, and Abonmarche can provide the engineering, surveying, architecture, and structural engineering services to support those projects.

About the SRF

Eligible candidates include cities, town counties, regional sewer/water districts, conservancy districts and water authorities. As of recent, nonpoint source projects are also included in this. Specifically, these eligible candidates must apply for this with only projects where there is an existing pollution issue. The money for this program comes from each specific state applying for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency annually for capitalization grants.

Wastewater projects may include:

  • Treatment plant improvements and upgrades
  • Sewer line extensions to existing unsewered properties
  • Combined sewer overflow corrections
  • Infiltration/inflow projects.

Drinking water projects may include:

  • Treatment plan improvements and upgrades
  • Water line extensions to existing unserved properties
  • Water storage facilities

Nonpoint source projects may include:

  • Wetland protection and restoration measures
  • On-site sewage disposal systems
  • Best Management Practices for agriculture and stormwater runoff
  • Riparian Buffers and Conservation Easements
  • Wellhead and Source Water Protection measure.

Projects not eligible for funding:

Private and not-for-profit facilities are only eligible for drinking water SRF Loan Programs. Additionally, projects that are solely intended for economic development, that are primarily for fire suppression, and/or that have no water quality benefits are not to be considered eligible.

How Abonmarche Can Help

The SRF loan is useful for communities that have large projects requiring funding and completion assistance. Abonmarche can service these communities throughout the entire process, including applying for the funds, creating and sealing the required Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) and associated forms completion. We’ll be able to provide solutions, alternatives, and preliminary designs based on the PER findings. Asset management plans for the system are also required to apply for SRF, and the engineering team at Abonmarche is well-equipped to handle the in-depth nature of water asset management plans.

Abonmarche SRF Services Include:

  • SRF Application Management
  • Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) and Forms Completion
  • Asset Management Plans
  • Surveying & Engineering associated with the project
  • Construction Inspection

Our SRF Projects Happening Near You:

  • New Chicago Water Works – System Improvements
  • Town of Demotte – I-65 Drinking Water & Wastewater Utilities Extension
  • NORWEJ – East Side Drinking Water Expansion Improvements
  • Benton Harbor, MI – Pipestone Area CWSRF & DWSRF System Improvements

To learn more about how Abonmarche can help bring vital SRF funding to your community contact our Valparaiso office at (219)850-4624.

ACEC/Michigan Honors Abonmarche as 2021 Firm of the Year

Benton Harbor, Michigan – Abonmarche is the newest recipient of the prestigious 2021 Firm of the Year Award bestowed annually by the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) of Michigan.

The award, considered the top honor at ACEC/Michigan’s annual Engineering & Surveying Excellence Awards, seeks to shine a spotlight on an ACEC member firm that excels in community engagement, advancement of the engineering profession, and ACEC involvement.

Abonmarche’s roots in community service run deep. For many years, our firm has served as a leader in supporting communities through active volunteerism and charitable donations. In 2020, our leadership developed Philanthropic and Voluntary PTO programs to support the passions of their staff. Abonmarche employees also enjoy a flexible work-life balance that enables them to accomplish goals outside of work, in addition to their career goals.

Our focus on client service is something we stress every minute of every day,” said Chris Cook, President of Abonmarche. “We have invested heavily in leadership training and in the advancement of each of our staff members’ industry certifications, along with a very successful internal technical staff development program.”

In addition to serving on several ACEC committees and forums, Abonmarche regularly mentors emerging firms. Our staff also often serve as a liaison between ACEC/Michigan, local governments, and several state agencies, helping to establish meaningful connections while advancing ACEC/Michigan goals.

“Thank you to ACEC/Michigan, the member firms who have counseled and advised us, our clients, and our staff, for all of the support you’ve provided us as we’ve grown,” said Cook. “We are proud to serve as an active member of ACEC/Michigan, and we are honored to be selected as the ACEC/Michigan 2021 Firm of the Year.”

ACEC/Michigan presented the 2021 Firm of the Year Award to Abonmarche at its annual Engineering & Surveying Excellence Awards Gala, held virtually Friday, February 26, 2021. For more information regarding the awards submission and selection process, visit www.acecmi.org/engineering–surveying-excellence. To learn more about Abonmarche, visit www.abonmarche.com.

Team Spotlight: Janice Mueller, CADD Tech

Janice Mueller, a CADD Tech at Abonmarche, has been with our firm for more than 20 years, making her one of our resident experts on all things Abonmarche.

  • Early Bird or Night Owl: Early Bird
  • Coffee or Tea: Tea
  • East Coaster or Out West: Out West
  • Favorite Travel Spot: Havasu Falls, an area of waterfalls on the Havasupai Indiana Reservation located in the Grand Canyon, Arizona
  • Creative Outlet: Needlepoint of rock concert tickets. I’m working on one from a Rolling Stones concert that my husband I went to a few years back.
  • Favorite Stones song: Start Me Up

How did your career first take shape?

I earned my degree in Interior Design from Purdue University, and I spent a few years doing corporate and residential design in Fort Wayne.

How did you make the shift to CADD?

At the beginning of my career, there was no CADD; we were all drafting. I went back to school and earned a second degree in CADD at Southwest Michigan College (SMC), and my next-door neighbor, worked at Abonmarche, heard that I was studying CADD. Shortly after that, I started as a CADD Technician at Abonmarche, and I never left!

From your view, what is the most noticeable change in the industry?

The precision in technology is the biggest change I’ve seen throughout the years. When everyone was beginning to make the jump from drafting to CADD – that felt like such a huge shift. Before, you could never draw that precisely. The technology we now have at our fingertips is incredible.

What is your area of focus at Abonmarche?

I work with our surveying and land development teams, as well as with builders and contractors who build homes.   I collaborate with a client to position each house on its lot correctly, taking into consideration a number of competing factors, such as zoning requirements, easements, drainage, municipal services and natural slope of the land for septic design.  Many times, it’s in a subdivision that our own team has designed and developed which is really neat to be able to work on.

When people hand you the plans for a new home, it’s a really rewarding experience to be able to look at the land and the work that needs to be done to create that home, and help manifest that reality for them.

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