How to Create a Sustainable Water Pipeline Infrastructure

Do you know what will become the most valuable commodity in the next 50 years? It isn’t a precious metal, a gemstone, or oil and natural gas: it’s water.

Many economists have realistically forecasted that “water is the new gold” and access to clean drinking water supplies will become increasingly strained in the future. This is why a sustainable water pipeline system is essential for the public good. The goal of utilities and pipeline construction companies is to ensure that all people have access to clean water for drinking, bathing, dish washing and flushing.

Private utility companies and municipalities will often employ and consult the expertise of engineers to design their water mains with the goal to make them last for 100 years, this is their “engineered life span.” Considered the reasonable amount of time for a pipeline to be in service before a wholesale replacement needs to take place.

It has been argued that water and waste water main failures are not as hazardous to life and property as an oil or natural gas pipeline rupture. While this is generally true, our planet is now experiencing widespread drought. Some areas of the world have a lot of obstacles in keeping their water reservoirs at a satisfactory level.

Water is only becoming a more valuable resource. Have you compared the price a litre of gas to a litre of bottled water? Nowadays, water is usually more expensive, and it’s only going to get worse!

This begs the question: why won’t municipal asset managers and consulting engineering firms design pipelines that are protected from corrosion, cracking, collapse and stress-strain? The answer is simple: cost.

What seems to be forefront in the minds of utility companies, municipalities and engineers is that they need to keep the cost of the initial build of water mains as reasonable as possible. Companies and communities only have so much money to spend and they hesitate to put up the money upfront that’s needed to create an optimal water distribution system. As a result, water mains are failing well before their designed engineered life span, and the cost of finding and fixing leaks has become a major component of operating and maintenance budgets.

PICA believes that water mains need to be monitored and maintained to be safe, reliable and cost effective, as they are essential for delivery of clean water and for sanitary removal of waste water for every community. Here are some factors we believe need to be taken into consideration to build and maintain a sustainable water mains system.

The Initial Design of the Pipeline System:

The foundation of a pipeline infrastructure that will exceed it’s engineered life expectancy starts with planning and design. This is a combination of several considerations:

  • The capacity of water that the line will realistically have to handle.
  • An analysis of the planned route and the soil and environmental conditions.
  • Consideration of any large communities that are near the water pipeline.
  • Safety and wall thickness will need to be analyzed and calculated. this is a trade-off between the pressure that the main will have to operate under; the weight of the pipe (matters mostly during handling and laying of the pipe when new) and the price. Water mains are usually designed with a safety factor of at least 1.5 to 2X. This is to ensure that the mains can degrade to some degree before there will be a break or leak.

Choose the Right Product:

The selection of pipeline and bedding materials is vital in the process of building a pipeline. Engineers and water pipeline stakeholders need to choose a material that will reduce the possibility of corrosion failures and still maintain enough strength to handle internal and external pressures on the pipe. For metal water mains, the corrosion and cracking resistance of the material comes into play.

If using PVC plastic pipe, the resistance to crushing is an important factor. Ensure that you choose the right product for the environmental conditions where the pipeline will be placed. Metal pipelines should also be lined (with cement mortar or epoxy) this stops corrosion, leaks, and adverse effects on the water being transported.

  • Pipelines can be constructed out of a wide range of materials such as steel, ductile-iron, and PVC. It’s important that the material selected is appropriate to the surrounding environment such as soil acidity and climate.

External and internal coatings and linings will need to be chosen for metallic mains. This technology has improved dramatically since the first metal pipes were installed in North America in the early 19th century. Today you can choose from a variety of paints, polyurethane, epoxy, cement, tar, and tape coatings to protect pipelines from corrosion. Find out more >

Building of the Water Mains:

The process of building a water line should be meticulously planned from the design of the pipeline to the moment it goes into operation. This will prevent incidents during transportation and construction that may result in premature rupture of the pipeline.

  • You should ensure the trucking company that you use has a favorable reputation and is experienced in transporting pipeline so that it will arrive without being damaged during shipping.
  • The heavy equipment being used to unload and position the pipe must be appropriate for the size of pipeline and nature of the project.
  • When you are building the water pipeline you should also consider the impact of construction on the surrounding environment. It can have an affect on the nearby wildlife and plant species by allowing invasive plant species to thrive, altering grazing patterns, and the reduction of topsoil due to erosion.

Alert People about Water Pipelines:

Construction activities are a reality of the modern world. There have been many situations in which people have ruptured pipelines with heavy equipment during their operations. Utilities and municipalities should have a reliable and simple way for the public to be made aware of the construction and existence of buried pipelines to prevent the pipeline from being ruptured by human actions. This could be an online platform and a phone number where people can efficiently obtain the information about underground pipelines.

Inspection of the Water Pipelines:

Ensure that the water pipelines under your purview are regularly inspected by qualified technicians with the most contemporary technology. This will detect flaws and weaknesses in the pipeline infrastructure and pinpoint where a leak is likely to occur.

PICA uses instrumented, hi-resolution in-line inspection tools that are capable of inspecting most water or waste water pipe sizes. We also employ experienced and skilled crews to conduct inspections for our customers. Virtually all of PICA’s customers continue to use our services year after year. This is because we value the continual improvement of our staff and technology and the delivery of useful information to our customers.

Spot Repairs of the Pipe:

Our technicians are skilled at their work and their recommendations should be taken seriously. Any flaws in the pipeline should be repaired right away. PICA’s hi-resolution “smart pigs” can extend the life of water main systems by locating the 1% of pipelines that require immediate attention and repair. This can allow asset managers to focus their attention on proactive surgical repairs; rather than reactive leak and break repairs (which often occur at the most inconvenient of times.) You don’t have to replace a whole section of the line, you can repair the specific weak spots to prevent a full scale pipeline failure.

Life Extension:

Even pipes that have reached the end of their design life can be pressed into service for many more years so long as proactive condition assessment and preventative repairs are part of the maintenance strategy.

PICA Corp. can assist your municipality or company with extending the life of your pipelines. We believe in creating a sustainable water pipeline system and maintaining its integrity throughout its engineered life span. Call PICA at 1 (800) 661-0127 or contact us by e-mail [email protected] if you are responsible for keeping water pipelines in working order.