Aging drinking water infrastructure is one of the foremost challenges facing the United States today, and the impacts extend from low water pressure to catastrophic failure of major water mains. To complicate the issue, these impacts can be exacerbated by changing climate conditions. In June 2022, a 60-year-old water main in Odessa, Texas broke leaving over 150,000 residents without water for 48 hours during a multi-day heat wave. The 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure gave the nation’s drinking water infrastructure a C- grade, citing aging water distribution piping dating as far back as the 19th century and roughly 300,000 water main breaks per year, or breaks every two minutes. For drinking water utilities at the forefront of the ongoing water infrastructure crisis, many resources are in place to support a deeper dive into water system evaluation. Given access to resource maps, GIS databases, and operational history, drinking water engineers can use software tools like EPANET, WaterCAD, and ArcGIS to identify system deficiencies and design proactive, resilient control strategies.

Using distribution system modeling software to assess and manage water distribution systems can aid both hydraulic evaluation and asset management program development. Hydraulic modeling is an effective tool for analyzing aspects of a distribution system that do not meet current regulatory or engineering design standards. Successful, well-maintained asset management (AM) programs provide a valuable tool for water systems’ reliable operation and maintenance. A comprehensive AM program can support consulting, planning, budgeting, and be a design resource to engineers, helping to inform critical decisions about aging infrastructure.

Hydraulic models can be developed during the condition assessment to address potential or planned changes to distribution system configuration or demand patterns. In this case, the hydraulic model determines whether water pumping equipment, storage, or the diameter of the distribution pipe itself are sufficiently sized to handle anticipated increases in system flow rates. Modeling can reveal flaws and inefficiencies in aging distribution systems.

One of the first steps in developing an asset management program is to compile a comprehensive inventory of system assets like pipe details (material, diameter, age), valves, and hydrants. Distribution system modeling software plays an integral role in modern asset management, enabling an engineer to not only create a detailed inventory of water system assets, but also use GPS and geographic information systems (GIS) software to map and categorize those assets accurately.

In summary, distribution system modeling provides significant benefits ranging from performing “what/if” analyses to optimize system performance, to informed master planning, to helping maintain a resilient system with a reliable supply of safe drinking water and fire protection. If you’d like to learn how a detailed distribution system model could benefit your system, contact me!

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