Main breaks are the first visible impacts of aging water and wastewater infrastructure, wreaking havoc on municipalities as pipes reach the end of their service lives. Leaks represent failures that have already occurred in the water distribution system. Older pipe networks leak more (background leakage), leak quieter (more difficult to find), and have higher risks of catastrophic failure.
Main breaks, as well as pipe age and material, have historically been the key determinants for selecting pipes to replace or rehabilitate. These factors, however, may not be indicative of the current (or future) condition of the pipeline. There is incontrovertible evidence that buried assets decay at different rates, even for pipes of the same age and proximity. The result – more than 70% of mains are being replaced prematurely, wasting significant taxpayer dollars.
How do utilities balance their operational needs and capital investments in new infrastructure? Numerous utilities are adopting Condition-Driven Asset Management (CDAM) to save millions in unnecessary pipe replacements. This best practice includes a tiered approach to condition assessment incorporating an Asset Management desktop model, Pipeline Inspection, and Permanent Monitoring (for critical assets). The amount of inspection is driven by the pipeline criticality. This approach mitigates failures risks while optimizing the use of precious capital.
A common problem is that once utilities target their problem pipes that fail regularly, they struggle to prioritize their programs. Utilities are crediting advances in non-invasive, acoustic condition assessment as a key element of their CDAM programs. This approach can augment the typical master planning approach to verify and augment a desktop model. These utilities are realizing a real return on assessment costs by simultaneously determining the structural integrity of pipe segments and accurately pinpointing leaks, all without breaking ground or disrupting service. With assessment costs of 2.0% to 3.0% of pipe replacement, acoustic condition assessment is being used for rate case justification, litigation questions, replacement and rehabilitation decisions, and due diligence support for water system acquisitions.
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