It’s no secret that the population of the Pittsburgh region has decreased by half since 1960. Drive through almost any neighborhood, and you will see vacant lots and abandoned buildings. At the same time, certain neighborhoods in the city are seeing an increase in new residents and developments. City planners are grappling with the best way to reconcile reinvestment and manage growth – a term often referred to as “rightsizing.”
An overlooked aspect of recent population trends is rightsizing the region’s water system. The system was built to serve giant steel mill industrial complexes and dramatically different population distributions. Current water storage, pressure, and pipe size may not be best suited for the Pittsburgh of today and surrounding municipalities.
Furthermore, PWSA must meet water quality requirements from the Department of environmental Protection and infrastructure replacement schedules regulated by the Public Utility Commission. Regular system upgrades are required to provide high-quality water. A Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) is created to inform the public and regulators about proposed projects and timelines for system upgrades. We include a CIP budget update in every issue of Currents.
Standard Criteria to Evaluate Projects
To better predict what underground infrastructure should be included in the CIP, we have hired a consultant to create a Water Distribution Master Plan (WDMP). The WDMP is a study of all PWSA’s transmission mains, distribution mains, pump stations, regulating valves, and storage facilities. It does not include the Aspinwall Water Treatment Plant or the Bruecken Pump Station. Priority projects may consist of reducing reservoir storage, resizing pipes, replacing high-risk segments, etc. The projects will then be incorporated into future CIPs in addition to our annual maintenance contracts to replace hydrants, valves, small water mains, meters, and lead service lines.
The method of evaluation varies based on the type of infrastructure. For example, all 900,000 feet of our transmission mains are being ranked based on size, material, age, whether other pipes are available to provide water in case of a break, impact of a break on neighboring areas, and the amount of water it carries. Is it close to a highway? Does it run under a river? Is it the only pipe to supply a whole neighborhood? In other words, what is the risk and criticality of each pipe segment? For equipment that is above ground such as pump stations and storage facilities, physical condition assessments are conducted in addition to data analysis.
Water Audit Training
The American Water Works Association (AWWA) established an industry standard for evaluating the amount of water loss any water system may experience called a water audit. As part of the WDMP, the consultant is conducting a baseline water audit of PWSA’s water system and recommendations for water loss reduction. In December, the AWWA provided a two-day training to PWSA staff on how to conduct a water audit internally. Each year, a new audit will take place to see what recommendations are working to prevent water loss and where to put additional resources.