Water utility assets are meant to last for decades, with installed infrastructure accounting for the majority of the utility balance sheet. That said, it is well-known that infrastructure replacement has lagged behind the need, in treatment plants, boosting stations and linear pipe assets.
Hundreds of US utilities employ buried water main pipes that are more than 100 years old. Aging water mains and other water infrastructure are a known challenge. A recent study, titled “Water Main Break Rates in the USA and Canada: A Comprehensive Study,” was conducted by the Utah State University Buried Structures Laboratory. A notable finding from this study is that water main breaks are up 27 percent in the past six years. Also, according to the study, the majority of water main pipes in the ground are cast iron (CI) pipes, with more than half of those over 50 years old.
Energy use is a huge consideration for water utilities, so much that a term has been coined for this interrelationship -- the water-energy nexus. According to a recent Congressional Research Report, water-related energy is estimated to account for about 4% of the nation’s electricity generation, and in California, for example, as much as 19% of the state’s electricity consumption is expended on pumping, treating, collecting, and discharging water and wastewater. Water utilities rely on a stable supply of energy to operate everything from pumping plants to treatment facilities. Energy expenses are a substantial portion of utilities’ annual operating budgets. Energy efficiency savings matter to all stakeholders involved, including cost-conscious utilities and sustainability-minded communities.
Managing waste materials is another important consideration for water utilities. Utility assets are painted, and that generates paint waste. Many older pipes which are asbestos cement should be tracked, as a risk management precaution if abandoned in place, and must be properly handled when removed. Lead-containing pipes and fixtures have similar considerations. Water treatment chemicals such as chlorine are hazardous materials subject to a host of storage risk management requirements. This is just a small list of material and waste management considerations. In this way, utilities have the same regulatory concerns and burden as other heavy-industrial business.