Though rainy weather may come and go, most of the United States experiences drought throughout the year, not only in the summer. For instance, California has been experiencing harsh drought conditions annually since 2000, and much of the West Coast, Mountain region and Southwest are increasingly struggling with drought.
According to a CNN article,1 2023 is a critical year to determine the Colorado River Basin’s future stability to supply water to the 40 million people who depend on it. Usage is currently outpacing the supply, and the largest man-made reservoirs in the country, Lakes Mead and Powell, are in danger of reaching “dead pool” status in the next two years, “where the water level is too low to flow through the dams and downstream to the communities and farmers that need it.”
When potable water is at a premium, any system maintenance or repair can become a nightmare. Under the best conditions, a repair can be costly in terms of money and water loss, but during a drought, it can be a public relations nightmare. Imagine how it must look to users living under usage constraints as several hundreds of thousands of gallons of water go gushing down the street.
By using insertion valves, public water systems (PWSs) can avoid the cost and the optics associated with repairs during drought conditions. An insertion valve can significantly reduce water loss during a repair or expansion, which mitigates the strain on the water supply, cuts costs and reduces environmental impact while preventing bad publicity.
Anytime a section of pipe needs to be repaired or replaced, there will be water loss, but during drought conditions, any water loss will negatively impact users, the environment and the utility’s reputation. An insertion valve allows utilities to isolate the area of maintenance, repair or expansion while maintaining service to the rest of the network with minimal water loss—sometimes as few as 10 gallons.
A conservative estimate shows that even for small pipe diameters, the amount of water saved by using an insertion valve over a traditional pipe replacement process is around 100,000 gallons (Image 1).
This number increases as the diameter of the pipe increases. A utility can prevent millions of gallons of water loss by adopting valve insertion within a system distribution maintenance program.
Based on Denver Water’s study on water lost from main breaks,2 the table (Image 1) shows the estimation of water loss savings from using an insertion valve compared to the traditional pipe replacement process. The figures use the high-end average water lost from main breaks, and the amount saved was then extrapolated based on various valve sizes. These figures also presume an insertion valve will be used only once in its lifetime to help control a main break. As a permanent asset, the valve can control flow for a lifetime of use, and the more the valve is exercised, the more water is saved.
Reduce Environmental Impact
Unless the PWS is part of a reuse system, any water loss from a pipe repair will end up in storm sewers and potentially drain into natural waterways. Chlorinated water is excellent for consumption but is detrimental to the natural environment, killing bacteria, algae and even fish, which can harm other parts of the ecosystem that depend on them. During times of drought—when the available source water is running low and ecosystem stability is stressed—it is critical to limit the amount of chlorinated water in the environment.
Additionally, the valve insertion process requires minimal excavation at the site, creating much less environmental disturbance than traditional methodologies. It may seem minor, but a smaller excavation can have a larger, positive impact because, in some conditions, utilities may be required to send the removed soil elsewhere for treatment, then transport other materials to the site to fill the hole.
Another overlooked factor is that traditional repair and expansion procedures can force maintenance workers to depressurize the system, which can be detrimental to older water systems once pressure is restored. Reintroducing pressure to the system will expose weak spots that can cause a rupture and leak more treated water into the environment—causing more work and costing more money. Insertion valves do not require depressurization, eliminating water hammer and potential damage down the line.
Ensure Fire Safety
Shutting down any part of the distribution system for repair or expansion puts the isolation area at risk in a fire emergency. With a system shutdown, viable hydrants may be reduced or eliminated, and commercial sprinkler systems can only access available water from a tank or static water source, thus limiting the ability to fight a serious blaze.
The odds of a fire starting increase during a drought, and fire can spread due to dry conditions. While the probability of a fire during a system shutdown may not be high, it is still a risk no utility wants to take. Using an insertion valve during repair or expansion avoids a complete water system shutdown and ensures there will be enough water in the distribution system for firefighters and commercial fire suppression systems to do their job quickly enough to contain the damage.
Maintain Water Quality & End User Trust
Contamination of the water supply is a common side effect of traditional repairs. In the best-case scenario, it can lead to discoloration and turbidity. In the worst-case scenario, it means issuing boil orders.
When water is scarce, this kind of contamination can upset customers already dealing with drought restrictions. Installing an insertion valve mitigates opportunities for water contamination, reduces the likelihood of discoloration and turbidity, and eliminates the need for boil orders.
Reduce Bad Press & Create Good Press
Water scarcity has been major headline news for years now. So, when a PWS experiences a significant drop in water quality or water supply during a drought, it is likely to attract media attention.
Unfavorable optics and increased public pressure can lead elected officials to demand why such water loss was allowed to happen and, more importantly, how it could have been avoided. The irony is that if a utility avoids a disaster by using an insertion valve, the inverse does not hold. Users will continue to drink and shower as though nothing has happened.
As such, it falls on the utility to proactively promote how it used foresight and leveraged modern technology to avoid losing precious water, protect the environment and maintain water quality. After all, drought or no drought, good news is always a scarce commodity.