'GREEN' Maintenance

March 25, 2010
Making municipal distribution systems more environmentally friendly

About the author: Chad Johnson is business development manager for Midwest Chlorinating & Testing, Inc. Johnson can be reached at 630.539.7459 or by e-mail at [email protected].

There is not a greater buzz than going “green” right now—from reusable bags at your local grocery store, to more fuel-efficient cars, to the average person doing their part to conserve energy and lower greenhouse gas emissions. But with all of these things that we see happening, a question remains to be asked: When is your distribution maintenance program going green?

It may be hard to think that you can help the environment while performing maintenance and repairs to your distribution system, but you can. There is no secret that the infrastructure in the ground is not perfect. But why use the old methods of shutting down or performing repairs “on the fly” to take care of the inevitable problems that come with burying something in the ground never to be seen again, unless of course if it breaks? By means of stopping flow in a live main without shutting down the system where a valve does not exist or has ceased to work using line stopping, you can eliminate needless water waste and save on the electricity used to pump it.

For example, let’s examine a common problem that we are all familiar with: A 6-in. hydrant needs to be replaced. The valve, however, has been broken in the “up” position since who knows when and all the valves on that side of town are in bad soil and have never been exercised. In this instance, a common solution is to try to shut down valves until the water stops. By the time you find the valves to isolate that little hydrant on the corner, however, you had to shut down and drain 10, 20 or 30 blocks—or even worse, you had to shut down the pump station and have wasted hours of time.

So, after all those blocks were shut down and the prayers that you did not need to use the fire protection that was out of commission have been answered, the hydrant was replaced as the sun goes down after a really long day. Now imagine it is February ... If only there was only a better way.

A Better Way

Fortunately, there is a way to make distribution system repairs or replacements easier and cheaper with a line-stopping procedure. Line stopping is a way to replace hydrants, valves or sections of pipe without losing thousands of gallons of water, losing fire protection or wasting a whole day—and all the while helping to protect the environment.

The line-stopping procedure is a means of temporarily plugging a pressurized pipe without disrupting pressure or service upstream of the line stop with minimal water loss during planned and unforeseen maintenance projects (Figure 1).

This unique technique eliminates the need to employ obsolete and costly methods of dealing with valve and hydrant problems, as well as the general maintenance of water distribution systems that can be used by municipalities on a daily basis. This method eliminates complete water systems shutdowns that create major service disruptions while needed repair or replacement work is being done. You will gain unprecedented control of your water system.

Environmental Considerations

The impacts of shutting down a water system to make repairs or improvements go beyond the safety issues, consumer complaints, overtime costs, potential fines or boil orders and backflow problems. There are also environmental impacts.

In the 6-in. hydrant replacement example, the losses are twofold. First, thousands of gallons of treated water have been flushed down the proverbial toilet. The lost water has to be retreated and pumped back into the system and replaced. Second—the less obvious—now more electricity has to be used to treat and pump the new water to customers.

Water conservation is not a new topic, and it is a global concern. In America, every state all the way down to the local level has some form of water conservation requirements for citizens. Some are more severe than others. California, for instance, is on the verge of a mandatory conservation order that will affect its economy severely. Water conversation is not a hard sell to citizens, but it is hard to explain the river flowing down Main Street during a water main break because the valves are not working, especially when those citizens cannot water their lawns. Wiser steps can be taken to use the water that is available.

Looking at the whole picture, better water management ultimately saves electricity too. By adding the costs of the labor, lost water and the rising electricity costs, those shutdowns can become quite costly. Reduced electrical use will contribute to reduced carbon emissions, promoting cleaner air to help make infrastructure green. Millions of dollars, tons of carbon emissions and millions of gallons of water could be saved by municipalities each year.

With line stopping, there is a way to shut down the water system or install a valve and avoid all the associated problems. Using new technology to conserve water has a wide range of advantages. Lower water loss will save electricity and keep water rates down. Line stopping allows for better all-around management of distribution systems and makes your maintenance plan a little greener.

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About the Author

Chad Johnson

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