Treasure Trove of Information

WATERiD National Knowledge Database Helps Water/Sewer Utilities Save Time and Money
Greg Baird — Feb 21, 2012

Water industry visits to Washington, D.C., continue to educate, but gain little traction in procuring new funding. One reason for the lack of attention to the public health of our water and wastewater systems stems from the fact that these assets remain silent and unseen until a local homeowner realizes his basement is flooded. Another main reason for a lack of general congressional attention is that water infrastructure failures and renewal planning for the most part have not been considered a national problem, but rather a local issue. This local versus national discussion has taken many forms, but one clear action plan that evolved is called the WATERiD project (WATER Infrastructure Database).

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) through the Aging Water Infrastructure (AWI) research program efforts, in conjunction with the Water Environment Research Foundation (WERF), has funded this remarkable effort. It has been headed up by Virginia Tech’s renowned professor, Dr. Sunil Sinha, a National Science Foundation (NSF) Career Award recipient in the area of sustainable water infrastructure management systems.

Sinha explains, “Utilities are not academia and they do not publish what they are doing. Many of the utilities also feel that their current course of action is best, but this determination was made with very little input from other national sources.

A disconnect exists between the real world of our drinking water and wastewater systems from the tactical world.”

The WATERiD project will be the de-facto national database to share information bridging the gap of the “local only” perspective and broadening the vantage point by drawing from utilities’ experiences from across the nation in an instant. This effort comes at an important time for our water infrastructure as more than two million miles of pipelines are nearing the end of their useful lives. 

One of the most difficult challenges utility management faces is how to predict which pipes will fail first. There are so many variables which play into when and how a pipe will fail, including pipe material, installation, bedding, soil corrosiveness, weather, environmental factors and others. In an effort to address this potentially serious problem, this national database on technologies to assess the conditions, rehabilitation and replacement of the underground pipes will be available to utilities and the general public. The proposed database will ensure a single point information center for the utilities, where they can find all the relevant information that will help in expediting the decision making process for the selection of appropriate condition assessment, rehabilitation technologies and replacement strategies.

The Replacement Crisis


Time is running out for many utilities that may have already waited too long to start their repair and replacement plans. Many times, pipe repair and replacement requires a loss of service because the distribution and collection systems may experience pressure loss and do not have sufficient redundancy. A manageable replacement program may suggest that pipes will be replaced over a 50 to 100 year replacement cycle even when the remaining pipe life is really less than 20 years. This could mean a wave of catastrophic pipe failure events for a community unless risked based asset management practices are implemented. Dr. Paul F. Boulos is a water distribution system expert and president of Innovyze, a global leader of business analytics software and technologies for wet infrastructure.

He explains that understanding the likelihood and consequences of a pipe failing is critical to determining its replacement priority. He says a utility should build or refine their capital improvement plans to provide maximum benefit for the lowest cost. WATERiD can help identify and understand the best technologies available for utility managers to deal with this crisis.

The Web Portal


The Web portal at WATERiD.org is the platform for direct sharing and dissemination of relevant water infrastructure information. This ranges from background documents, management practices, technologies, models, tools, standards and ongoing pipeline condition assessment and renewal engineering projects around the world. The database is designed to serve as the first stop for water infrastructure-related information and acts as the essential gateway that connects the stakeholders to various information sources scattered online.

Virginia Tech graduate students have traveled around the country for the past year, interviewing employees at over 90 water and wastewater utilities, compiling over 300 case studies, 300 technical descriptions and 100 technology data sheets of underground pipes. “We have developed a very robust database,” Sinha says. “It is necessary because the utilities are very fragmented in their efforts and this database creates a much more level playing field for the some 40,000 utilities in the U.S.”

It is expected that this national database will also capture some of the valuable information that many retiring water professionals have regarding their distribution and collection systems. This database will also be very valuable to rural or small utilities that will be able to draw from a wide body of knowledge and expertise for free. Over 100 utilities have offered their support so far in this effort and the numbers will continue to grow.

The Benefit of Case Studies


This database has been described as the Wikipedia for the water and wastewater utilities, the exception being that users will not have editing privileges. Other buried infrastructure experts across the nation like Dr. Steven Folkman also support this important initiative. Folkman is a registered professional engineer, a member of the American Society for Testing and Materials’ (ASTM) F17 Plastic Piping System, a member of AWWA and a member of the Transportation Research Board Committee on Culverts and Hydraulic Structures. Folkman is also the co-author of “Buried Pipe Design” and is involved with Utah State University’s (USU) Buried Structures Laboratory. There, he has applied his expertise in structural designs of spacecraft as well as buried pipe structures involving soil/structure interaction, finite element modeling and testing. The USU Buried Structures Laboratory is recognized as one of two laboratories in the United States performing tests on buried pipes. Folkman explains that a national water infrastructure database will help utilities research and analyze the performance of a wide range of pipes, so they can determine the proper pipe and installation system for the job. The WATERiD project will provide clear examples and case studies for designing new municipal drinking and wastewater systems or for rehabilitating existing ones.

WATERiD contains:

  • Performance and cost information for condition assessment, renewal engineering and buried pipe location technologies for water and wastewater pipes.
  • A library providing awareness of industry resources such as journal papers, conference papers, research reports, etc.
  • Primary information (direct from utility experience) about Condition Assessment and Renewal Engineering technologies’ cost and performance including original case studies detailing real world applications.
  • A directory of Condition Assessment and Renewal Engineering Technology Profiles that are navigable by technology classes (or keyword searchable) that document their technical envelope, availability, industry standards, specifications, cost drivers and performance history.
  • A directory of Management Practice concepts which pertain to the use of Condition Assessment and Renewal Engineering technologies.
  • A directory of models and tools that pertain to the use of Condition Assessment and Renewal Engineering technologies.
  • A directory of vendors, consultants and contractors available for a particular Condition Assessment and Renewal Engineering technology on a regional basis.
  • A directory for use by utility personnel only, consisting of utility contacts searchable by experience with particular Condition Assessment and Renewal Engineering technologies.
  • Bid Information Submissions for tracking Condition Assessment and Renewal Engineering technology cost and performance data.
  • Forums for public discussion.

Pipe Replacement Cost Case Studies


As an example, for Aurora Water (water utility) in Aurora, Colo., the 2010 Annual Waterline Replacement cost case study covers replacing approximately 31,400 linear feet of existing water mains with non-corrosive eight in. PVC. This includes valves, fittings and fire hydrants at various locations along residential streets in the city. The project data includes dates of the bid, award, design start date and construction time frame. Here is the cost information: 

Design Cost: $27,199
Engineer’s Estimate: $4.5 million
Successful Construction Bid/Contract Award: $2,751,157

The Documentation Requested for Case Study Development may include:
1. Project reports from all phases of projects from pre-design to post project completion.  
2. Bid Tabs and project cost breakdowns.  
3. Bid Documents.  
4. Internal Project Communications.  
5. Pictures and Maps.  
6. Written Summary of Lessons Learned and/or Tips for other utilities considering using the technology.  

There are many case studies, including exceptionally detailed cost case studies, that include details on conditional assessment and rehabilitation efforts for all pipe materials, making WATERiD a treasure to each and every utility. This wealth of knowledge needs to continue to grow and be used by utility management in order to produce the greatest return on investment. As you face your local utility challenges, remember that one of our greatest resources is the lessons learned from our peers.

Gregory M. Baird is Managing Director and Chief Financial Officer of AWI “Aging Water Infrastructure” Consulting. He is an experienced municipal finance and utility management professional, including serving as chief financial officer for Aurora, Colo., and has a Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) from Brigham Young University’s Marriot School of Management.

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