INFRASTRUCTURE: USU Study Reports Low Break Rates, Corrosion Problems for Water Utilities

The Utah State University (USU) Buried Structures Laboratory recently published a comprehensive study on water main break rates for the United States and Canada. USU, located in Logan, Utah is also home to the Utah Water Research Laboratory and has significantly contributed to water and wastewater research internationally for the last 50 years. The Buried Structures Laboratory is one of two locations in the U.S. that has a large scale testing facility for pipe materials and structures.

Dr. Steven Folkman, co-author of Buried Pipe Design, has completed the pipe materials study focusing on 188 utilities representing approximately 10 percent of the nation?s installed water main pipe network. Water main break rates are calculated for all pipe materials used in the transport of water to create a measurement to judge pipe performance and durability. The study will help prudent decision-making as it relates to repairing and replacing underground pipes.

A major finding of the study is that PVC pipe has the lowest overall failure rate when compared to cast iron, ductile iron, concrete, steel and asbestos cement pipes. Another major finding was corrosion, a major cause of water main breaks, as 75 percent of all utilities have corrosive soil conditions. Combined with a high portion of old cast iron and ductile iron pipes, corrosion is ranked the second highest reason for water main pipe failure in the U.S. When comparing between older cast iron and newer ductile iron, thinner-walled ductile iron is experiencing failures more rapidly.

The average age of the failing water mains is 47 years old and 22 percent of all water mains are over 50 years old. The study also found that 8 percent of all installed water mains are beyond their useful life and that the use of trenchless technology will continue to increase with directional drilling as the most widely accepted technology. This study contributes to the continuing efforts of the Environmental Protection Agency?s (EPA) Aging Water Infrastructure (AWI) research and the American Water Works Association (AWWA).

Report Touts Benefits of Green Infrastructure

Communities looking for the most cost-effective options for managing polluted runoff and protecting clean water should choose green infrastructure solutions, according to a report released in April by American Rivers, the Water Environment Federation (WEF), the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and ECONorthwest.

The report, ?Banking on Green: How Green Infrastructure Saves Municipalities Money and Provides Economic Benefits Community-wide,? demonstrates that green infrastructure practices can offer more cost-effective solutions relative to traditional infrastructure approaches. The report also details additional potential benefits of green infrastructure such as lower energy expenses, reduced flood damage and improved public health.

Green infrastructure refers to practices like green roofs, rain gardens, bioswales and pervious pavement that capture and treat rainwater and runoff. These measures reduce the amount of polluted runoff ? the water that mixes with oil, pesticides and other pollutants as it rushes over streets, parking lots and yards into local streams.

?Polluted runoff is a pervasive threat to clean rivers and streams nationwide,? said Chris Williams, senior vice president for conservation at American Rivers. ?Communities across the country are protecting their water resources with green infrastructure. It effectively reduces pollution, saves money and delivers other benefits like flood damage prevention and improved public health.?

The report features case studies from cities saving money and enjoying the other benefits of green infrastructure. For example, New York City?s plan to reduce combined sewage overflows will save an estimated $1.5 billion over 20 years by incorporating green infrastructure rather than relying solely on traditional gray infrastructure like massive pipes. In Louisiana, a high school in Baton Rouge spent $110,000 on bioswales and a rain garden to reduce flooding, rather than the $500,000 it would have cost to re-pipe the site.

The report?s top findings are as follows:

Not only can the green infrastructure option cost less, but these practices can further reduce costs of treating large amounts of polluted runoff.

Green infrastructure can help municipalities reduce energy expenses.?

Green infrastructure can reduce flooding and related flood damage.

Green infrastructure improves public health ? it reduces bacteria and pollution in rivers and streams,?? preventing gastrointestinal illnesses in swimmers and boaters.?

The complete report is available for download at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *