Every wastewater system is unique: Age, geography, pipe materials, rehab methods, and climate all shape infrastructure over time. But even in the diverse landscape of American utilities, some systems stand out. Big Bear City, California, is one of these outliers.
The Big Bear City Community Services District Sewer Department for this unincorporated community in San Bernardino County supports just a small portion of the local wastewater service, but its work frequently takes it off the beaten path. Located 700 ft above sea level, Big Bear is a vacation destination. With fewer than 12,000 local residents who live in the mountains, the small wastewater management team of six operators spends its days monitoring the seven pump stations, venturing along mountain roads and through unlikely easements.
Many of the residential buildings are around 50 years old and lack outdoor cleanouts; and a number of them are also vacation homes that don’t see year-round use. The sewer challenges the Big Bear City Community Services District Sewer Department tackle often relate directly to at least one of these two factors. To combat the tricky landscape, the Sewer Department operates one of its CCTV systems out of a Polaris UTV that can drive into the forest, where there are no trails — let alone roads — to support regular maintenance and inspection.
A Unique Approach
Big Bear has also taken a unique approach to managing its wastewater system. While many communities across the United States spent the last few decades operating with policies of react and repair, the department has always prioritized preventative maintenance. After several team veterans retired seven years ago, the new leadership seized the opportunity to modernize and upgrade. Explained Sewer Department foreman Andy Keller, “We’ve moved up and are always looking for new tech and things that can make our operators more productive. We’ve made a lot of changes from the old school ways in the last few years.”
A key piece of this evolution has been deploying WinCan to support the system’s wastewater inspection process and records-keeping. Though the Sewer Department had operated a competitor’s software in the past, Keller and his team were unhappy with the results. They needed a solution that could integrate with their growing GIS implementation while being user-friendly for their operators. Reporting was a hassle, and data had to be imported into the asset management system before it could be manipulated, slowing down productivity. The Sewer Department began searching for alternatives. The local gas company, which had been running lateral inspections before and after boring, recommended WinCan. Upon learning more about the software — including its compatibility across multiple brands of inspection hardware — Big Bear knew it had its answer.
The on-site presence of WinCan’s experts ensured a smooth WinCan Web deployment. “We have some other cloud-based tech at the agency, and I know that’s the way things are going,” said Keller. The previous system hadn’t allowed for the department to save complete video footage of all inspections, as it did not have the internal IT capabilities to manage that much data. While there was some worry about the ease of migrating to a new system, Big Bear was pleasantly surprised at the ease of syncing relevant data and looks forward to the opportunities the software allows.
The scalability of the cloud ensures WinCan Web has all the storage it could want for current and future recording and at a much lower cost than maintaining the data in house would require. Crews regularly upload their data into the system, and Keller looks forward to completely connecting all hardware in the future “Just the storage was a big plus,” he explained. “But it’s great to have a searchable database for me here in the office. I can look things over without having to go out to the truck.” Other stakeholders — those within the services district and members of the community — also appreciate the convenience. When handling a call, customer service staff can quickly pull up observation information and respond to residents with the information that they need, even sharing videos of laterals with homeowners. The software has improved communication and is helping create a more informed community.
WinCan’s GIS integration will also have long-term impact on Big Bear’s operations. “The mapping database sync was pretty seamless…. We were worried it would be an issue, but it was an easy transition,” noted Keller. But storing Big Bear’s existing files was only a small part of the task. “We didn’t have good data that was transferable to GIS for laterals. They were measured off of old records from the 1970s. Some location notes referenced things like abandoned cars or old trees that aren’t there now, or won’t be in the future.” Much of the crew’s work combines inspecting and mapping. “We do mainlines and laterals at the same time. We shoot a main, and record the whole thing. On the way back, we do every lateral. This is our daily routine.” And WinCan — with its scalable storage and effortless GIS integration — makes that routine easy.
Because WinCan Web is on the cloud, Big Bear has the flexibility to scale its services, storage and costs as its needs evolve. This adaptability makes all the difference for a small department looking to implement big ideas. Big Bear expects to continue to expand its mapping and adopt new technologies as they enter the market. Its landscape and needs are unique, and the department itself is not afraid to reach beyond its comfort zone. They’ve found that investing in quality solutions pays off in the long run.