How many times on your daily commute to work have you heard a radio traffic alert mentioning broken water lines/mains so that you avoid traffic delays? There is no doubt our nation’s infrastructure is getting older and with State and local governments in a continual budget crunch it seems there must be a better way to maintain our aging system of pipes. One possible solution is the use of an enterprise asset management (EAM) system for government utilities. However, to better understand how they can be used, let us a take a look at what causes water pipe and water main breaks.

Leaking Water Pipe

The Aging of Municipal Water Systems

Water pipes can leak or break for a variety of reasons but the common causes are age related. Many city water systems in use today makes use of piping, valves and other fittings that are more than 50 years old and in quite a few areas, well over a hundred years old. The pipe infrastructure used is almost exclusively iron or some form of iron alloy. Unfortunately, their useful life expectancy was never intended to be hundreds of years. Over time municipal water lines are subject to failure as a result of:

  • Corrosion damage is virtually unavoidable and can occur in the pipe, at joints, valves, or connections. Scheduling water system inspections can identify corrosion before pipe failure to allow for corrective measures.
  • Tubercation is the buildup of corrosive materials in a pipe that causes lower water flows and reduces water pressure. Tubercation begins almost immediately after installation but can be minimized with a number of techniques including the adjustment of Ph levels.
  • Severe temperature changes particularly freezing temperature can cause pipes to freeze or burst.
  • Excessive weight on buried pipes can cause them to break. For example, many water lines are beneath city streets, which can buckle under the weight of passing trucks.
  • Geologic changes such as Sinkholes or shifting soils can cause piping to bend, weaken or rupture.
  • Failure of valves and other components used to control pressure and flow. Most valves and joints are also subject to corrosion. A stuck valve may not be able to adjust water flows or pressure as needed.
  • Human error includes mistakes such as closing a valve too fast causing a water hammer, improper maintenance, and any other form of human interaction that causes an imbalance to the municipal water system.

Governments Have a Choice

Replacing or fixing the water infrastructure in cities is a process that takes a great deal of time due in large part to municipal water departments being in a mostly reactionary maintenance mode. The reactive or fighting mode is simply a result of the volumes of leaks and unplanned breaks on a daily basis. However, this is where good city planners and maintenance leaders can leave their mark. By implementing an EAM system, water department managers can slowly move from a reactionary to a proactive maintenance environment.

The move to proactive maintenance practices can help the early identification of potential problems and allow preventive maintenance to be performed before a major water break occurs. But most importantly, implementing EAM inspections and preventive maintenance will lower the number of emergency repairs because minor issues can be scheduled creating greater scheduling flexibility. Key to early identification of water leaks include regularly scheduled water audits and the use of geophones or other electronic listening devices.

“A water audit helps systems keep unaccounted for water loss to the recommended 15 percent or less of the total water a system produces. Conducting a water audit and following up on the results can help the utility control its water losses.”

Source: Vipin Bhardwaj for The National Drinking Water Clearinghouse

How much is 15% worth to your City? In addition, using the new maintenance flexibility provided by an EAM sharply reduces overtime an enables more work to be done with the same amount of resources.

EAM Lifecycle Asset Management

It is never too late to begin tracking the historical record of the work order lifecycle and the general asset lifecycle. The implementation of an EAM sets up an asset database that keeps track of asset location, age, cost, inspection and maintenance history, who performed the work, parts needed, cause of problem and maintenance results. The reports generated can track leak patterns, identify major repair potentials as well as enhance the capital budget planning of municipalities.

The cost savings using an EAM can easily justify its purchase. State and local governments will save precious tax dollars from:

  • Lower water costs as a result of less waste from leakage. In heavy industrial cities that require excessive water use this amount can be huge.
  • Lower capital expenditures as preventive maintenance reduces the number of water breaks and pipe replacements allowing water departments to squeeze a few more useful years out of the piping.
  • Lower labor costs as emergency actions are reduced and replaced with scheduled maintenance allowing governments to do more with the same amount of resources.

Since water asset replacement is an ongoing process covering many years, the EAM software can be updated with each piece of replacement piping as well the maintenance results. State and local governments now have the right EAM tool to manage water system assets from the planning stage through their replacement. Tell us how your city manages its water infrastructure.

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