Industry Insights

Industry Insights

AWWA industry partners offer a wealth of knowledge, insights and solutions on crucial water-sector issues and opportunities. Here, we are honored to showcase their expertise through special content developed in partnership with AWWA. We value their commitment to the water sector and appreciate their support of AWWA.  

Xylem: Data-Driven Pipeline Management

Brought to you by    Xylem Pure Technologies

It’s not always obvious when buried infrastructure is deteriorating — until it fails. Pipeline management presents some of the most difficult choices for any water utility. An asset management program, driven by condition data (not assumptions), is a proven way to reduce risk, control costs, and extend the useful life of critical pipelines and valves.

This guide (prepared by AWWA in partnership with Pure Technologies, a Xylem brand) explains how utilities are making the leap to data-driven pipeline management — starting with risk analysis, collecting and analyzing assessment data, and developing a plan to deliver maximum benefits from a limited budget.

Start improving the long-term health of your pipelines today. Learn more.


Interview: Pipeline Condition Data

AWWA’s new Essential Knowledge e-book, Empowering Data-Driven Pipeline Management (developed in partnership with Pure Technologies), offers an in-depth exploration of how water utilities are leveraging data to extend the life of transmission mains and wastewater force mains.

Recently, Eric Toffin, P.E., Global Product Manager for Metallic Pipeline Solutions at Xylem, sat down with AWWA to discuss how utilities are embracing digital technologies to become more efficient and effective about addressing aging infrastructure.

How do utilities benefit from getting more proactive about how they assess, control, and manage pipelines?

Toffin: Developing a complete, accurate, and current dataset about pipelines helps utilities control costs, increase operational efficiency, reduce truck rolls, and minimize impacts to their reputation.

Digging up pipelines — especially large, critical pipelines — is complex, challenging, and costly work. That’s true for planned digs, but it’s even more true when a utility needs to fix a break that’s already interrupted service and possibly caused adjacent damage. Digs are disruptive to customers and the public, including pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

That makes it crucial to dig in the right location the first time, with the right resources on hand, and to complete the work quickly and smoothly. Good data about the current condition of underground pipelines supports all of these best outcomes.

In our experience, 4% of pipes show signs of damage, and even fewer require repair or replacement. You can save a lot by targeting those bad pipes. When you find and address specific pipes with damage, you can restore the useful life of your entire pipeline to near new.

Why is pipeline condition data a strategic utility asset?

Toffin: Most utilities know the criticality and failure history of their pipelines, but they know less about the actual condition of their underground infrastructure. Corrosion, surge events, and other factors can take an invisible toll on buried water and wastewater pipes. Not all leaks create detectable signs at the surface.

When age and historical failures are the main factors determining when a pipeline gets repaired or replaced, utilities run a big risk of tearing out pipes that still have a lot of useful life left.

Manufacturing methods and materials have changed a lot over the decades. A cast iron pipe installed in the early 20th century might have a useful life of 100 years or more, because the pipe walls were very thick. The useful life of a ductile iron pipe installed in the 1960s might be half that; the industry transitioned to thinner walls after iron was in short supply during World War II.

Unfortunately, this means that many utilities are facing a pending tsunami of pipelines reaching the end of their design life. They can’t just play whack-a-mole by addressing failures as they happen, and they can’t replace everything. They need a strategy for how and when they update aging infrastructure. Getting good pipeline data is an essential step in that strategy.

How can pipeline condition data help utilities avoid surprises?

Toffin: Good data helps utilities make sure their pipeline and valve records match the reality in the field.

Knowing where to dig isn’t always easy. Often, the precise locations of underground pipelines do not completely match plans or GIS data. Where are those pipes, bends, and valves, exactly? A pipe that originally was off to the side of a small road 80 years ago might be under the middle of a bigger, busier thoroughfare today.

Valves are another important concern. Typically, utilities know where valves are located — but are those valves functioning? When a valve is inoperable, it’s common to replace it, rather than repair it.

The Essential Knowledge Series guide tells how the City of Grand Rapids saved money by repairing, rather than replacing, its large valves. Nearly every utility in the world faces this choice, and hundreds of thousands — if not millions — of dollars are at stake.

How does condition data enhance the economics of operating a pipeline network?

Toffin: Good pipeline data supports better budgeting. Utilities not only realize more value from every dollar spent on repairing and replacing pipelines — they also can more accurately estimate how much they’ll need to spend, and when.

Planned repairs are always easier and less expensive than after-hours emergency calls. There’s less pressure and time crunch to get the work done.

Of course, more efficient use of resources yields savings. When underground infrastructure unexpectedly fails, a utility may not have the right equipment and materials to fix the problem in their yard. Good pipeline data means fewer emergencies and better preparation.

Pipeline condition data informs financial planning, too. Analyzing trends lets you plan work in the coming years. You can build targeted projects into future capital plans, get funding approved easily, schedule shutdowns, and coordinate with stakeholders and communities.

Why might condition assessment be helpful even if your pipes aren’t that old?

Toffin: It’s helpful to develop a good baseline understanding of pipeline condition. Even in relatively young pipelines, we’ve seen hotspots of activity — for example, places with hot soils, where the pipe lining or coating is damaged, and corrosion is increasing.

A pipeline condition assessment program identifies red flags early, so you can keep a close eye on them over time. Once managers know where these hotspots are, that helps steer future inspection and maintenance work.

Starting a condition assessment program may seem daunting, but it becomes easier once you start. The experience your team gains with this process reduces the time and effort needed for the regular reinspection cycle. Plus, inspection and monitoring tools are getting better all the time, and it keeps getting easier to get them into, out of, and through buried pipelines.

It’s never too late to start building valuable institutional knowledge. The savings and value only grows over time.

Learn more about Pure Technologies, a Xylem brand pipeline assessment solutions.

Flume Empowers Arizona City to Reduce Residential Water Use

Brought to you by  

In the City of Goodyear, Arizona, residential water conservation recently took a big step forward thanks to a partnership between the municipal water utility and Flume Utility & Business Solutions.

Through a rebate program, hundreds of Flume water monitors were distributed to residents. Data-driven insights on indoor and outdoor water use empowered residents to change behaviors and address leaks and other sources of water waste.

The result: Residential water consumption dropped by 15% in one year.
Learn how they did it!



In-house Analytical Testing Delivers Diverse Benefits 

Brought to you by  

Ensuring excellent water quality demands high-quality instruments that detect and measure contaminants and other factors with extreme accuracy. This is especially true for meeting new PFAS mitigation rules.

Learn how the Orange County (Calif.) Water District is saving money and time, and getting more granular and useful results, thanks to instrumentation solutions from SCIEX.
Learn more.



Optimize Your Water System

Brought to you by  

Water meters generate a lot of useful data, but too often it’s siloed within a utility’s billing department.

Badger Meter offers smart water solutions that move beyond the meter to deliver operational insight, helping you capture revenue, mitigate risk and improve customer satisfaction.
Learn more.

Successful Pipe Replacement with Less Digging and Minimal Surface Disruption

Brought to you by  

When the City of Lloydminster (Alberta, Canada) needed to replace sewer pipes beneath a busy intersection, trenching would have been too disruptive. Project engineers opted to use static pipe bursting to replace existing pipe with spline-lock DR 18 Certa-Lok® restrained-joint integral bell (RJIB) PVC pipe from Westlake Pipe & Fittings.

Learn why this technique and product were selected as well as how this challenging project was completed successfully.

Building the Water Utility of the Future

Brought to you by    Sensus_Logo

We are constantly met with the demands of an ever-changing landscape of shifting water challenges. What was once sufficient will no longer satisfy as demands of finances, climate, workforce and population all increase. A utility must be ready to adapt and respond to the next big challenge. This guide, prepared in partnership by AWWA and Sensus, a Xylem brand, addresses how to transform your water future from sufficient to resilient through a smart utility framework.

Embrace digital transformation for a future-proof utility. Learn more.

Interview: The Benefits of Smart Utility Networks

AWWA’s new Essential Knowledge e-book, Building the Water Utility of the Future (developed in partnership with Sensus, a Xylem brand), offers an in-depth exploration of how water utilities are moving beyond smart metering to digitally transform key systems and operations.

Recently, Sensus smart water engineer Zac Barkjohn sat down with AWWA to discuss some of the reasons why utilities are making this shift, and how this benefits their operations, customers and bottom line.

What is a smart utility network, and how can water utilities and their customers benefit from adopting this type of solution?

Zac Barkjohn: A smart utility network is a workhorse of data collection. It offers visibility and control across the entire water system. It encompasses, and bridges the gap between, advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) and more power-hungry communication networks. 

AMI is designed to support many battery-powered endpoints, distributed spatially at the edges of the water system (at every customer’s meter). The architecture and infrastructure that support meter reading can also do many other important jobs. 

SCADA requires hardwired power and significant up-front investment, which is why it’s typically deployed only at central system points such as treatment plants and pump stations. Water utilities often desire increased system visibility — but it might be too costly to deploy SCADA equipment and power to 1,000 system points.

In a smart utility network, battery-powered devices and networked two-way communications (such as the Sensus FlexNet® communication network) collect data and provide system visibility at a price point lower than ever before possible. In addition to on-demand meter reads, it can yield distribution system situational awareness, help track down water losses, support monitoring and modeling, and lots of other useful capabilities. You can also update firmware by remote and transmit special instructions to specific devices. 

The ability to remotely update firmware or configuration settings is critical, when you consider that utilities are deploying thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of smart meters. Reconfiguring over the air yields massive time and cost savings.

In a smart utility network, which kinds of data and analytics offer the greatest potential benefits to water utilities?

Zac Barkjohn: Increasing system visibility fundamentally changes how you manage a water system. All of the benefits stem from informing operational decisions and reducing response time. You can optimize and automate your system considerably more.

For instance, an application for pressure monitoring and management (such as the Sensus Analytics Pressure Profile) is a huge source of potential benefits. When a customer calls to report low water pressure, traditionally the utility would need to roll a truck to deploy a pressure sensor on the nearest hydrant, and monitor that for a week, just to even begin to understand the problem. 

A smart utility network would be constantly monitoring customer meters, as well as control valves and other system points. Remote monitoring of water with smart products (such as Sensus Ally® Water Meters, or the Sensus® Smart Gateway Sensor Interface) can easily help utilities build out a smart utility network. These products enable remote management and monitoring of data. System operators would already have all this data at their fingertips, so they can immediately run analytics to identify the problem and target a repair. That’s a much faster response, which enhances customer satisfaction and reduces losses.

Even better is when you automate system analytics to proactively scout for problems. Then operators can arrange to fix problems before the customer notices. This helps keep customers happy, saves the utility money, and makes the job of water professionals much easier. 

How can adopting a smart utility network help utilities take better care of their distribution network?

Zac Barkjohn: Again, this all comes down to increasing system visibility. The battery-powered devices deployed across a water system provide measurement as well as continuous monitoring. Gathering that data is the key to making profound system improvements. Previously, measurement and monitoring have mostly been short-term and ad hoc. 

For example, pressure-reducing valves (PRVs) are a key part of the infrastructure of any water system. PRVs maintain safe pressure levels; so as pipes grow more brittle with age, the importance of PRVs increases. Utilities have deployed PRVs across their system; they’re highly geographically dispersed, and they’re often in locations where it’s difficult to wire them for power. 

In the absence of monitoring, and aside from periodic maintenance checks, most utilities don’t really know what’s going on with their PRVs. So they manage them by failure, which can have consequences. When a PRV fails, the pressure might suddenly jump from 80 to 120 psi. Think about what that can do to aging pipes in a water system — and to customers’ plumbing and fixtures.

A smart utility network can provide hydraulic monitoring of all parts of the system, including PRVs. Analytics can predict which valves might be nearing the end of their useful life or experiencing problems. This supports repair or replacement based on actual conditions, before a valve fails and damages pipes. 

Distributed monitoring across your network also helps minimize water losses. Most utilities monitor pressure at central points, like treatment plant intakes, pump stations and tanks. This can tell you that a break has occurred; you can see the tank draining and the pumps running full speed. But then: where is the leak?

With district metering at strategic system points, you can quickly identify where the break is in your system. You’ll have a more thorough understanding of network hydraulics, beyond the few locations where you have SCADA. Less guesswork, less time, less lost water.

AWWA does not assume responsibility for opinions or statements of facts expressed by contributors, and editorials do not necessarily represent official policies of the association. Mention of any product(s) and/or service(s) shall in no event constitute an endorsement of the entity that manufactures, distributes, or promotes the products or services.