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ISAWWA SPLASH Theme - Distribution Systems

July 27, 2015

Water distribution systems are made up of various sized pipes, valves, pumps and other appurtenances through which potable water is moved from the treatment plant to the homes, businesses, and industries that receive the water where it is needed and in the amounts that they require. The distribution system also include facilities to store potable water for use during periods when demand is greater than the treatment plant can supply, meters to determine how much water is being used, and hydrants to provide fire protection.

     Distribution systems are referred to as “buried assets” because they are not visible. In many water utilities, the distribution system can be the most expensive asset to replace, and in many cases, it is usually the oldest asset in the utility. The distribution system becomes visible when there is a water main break. That is when the “asset” looks more like a “liability”.

     According to the 2014 Infrastructure Report Card published by the Illinois Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers, “Illinois estimated that the drinking water systems needed an investment of $19 billion over the next 20 years to replace aging facilities and comply with safe drinking water regulations. However, over that same time period the water quality compliance rate has increased from 93.9% to 96.5%. Through programs such as the Clean Water Initiative, Public Water Supply Loan Program, and the Green Infrastructure for Clean Water Act, Illinois has begun to make steps to improve its drinking water infrastructure. The City of Chicago Department of Water Management’s recently adopted 10-year plan for replacing aged water lines is a good step forward. These new efforts benefit our drinking water infrastructure; however, there is still a very long way to go.”

   The challenge facing all water utilities in Illinois is that our distribution systems are old and getting older. However, we are fortunate to have more options to maintain the buried assets in the distribution system and extend the useful life by pipe rehabilitation instead of replacement, and to conduct leak detection by several methods so compromised pipes can be repaired and put back in reliable service in a proactive manner instead of a reactive manner. Advances in meter technology can greatly assist the water utility regarding where their infrastructure dollars can be best spent, and where water conservation is needed most. Utilizing computer hydraulic modeling is another tool to help the utility find areas in their distribution systems that need to be improved regarding system pressures, fire protection, and water quality.

    Proper asset management of the distribution system can lead to great returns and many other benefits to the water utility. Don’t allow your buried assets to become “unsustainable liabilities”.

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” - Abraham Lincoln

Respectfully submitted by:

Owen Keenan, Chair
Water Distribution Committee
Illinois Section AWWA

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