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Imagine a Day without Water: Aging Infrastructure within Water and Wastewater Treatment

While modern plumbing systems are comparatively advanced in design, the pipes and equipment that make up water infrastructure were not meant to last forever. Richard Chappell, PE, BCEE is an environmental and civil engineer in SSR’s Infrastructure Program. He says many of the pipes that carry water and wastewater have been in the ground for decades and begun to decay, leak, or become obstructed due to newer construction. Consequently, there can be leaks in the pipes that lead to the loss of valuable treated water. Many utilities cannot afford to lose this valuable asset into the ground and many are working to improve the aging infrastructure. Other problem areas include the valves and hydrants connected to the system — equipment that does not receive the required maintenance to remain fully functional.

Fortunately, there are methods to protect the deteriorating infrastructure. With SSR, Chappell has worked extensively at the North Clarksville Water Treatment Plant in Clarksville, TN. Such projects include the modernization of the plant through the use of microfiltration, a method that uses membranes with very small pores to remove contaminants in the drinking water before disinfection. Microfiltration is more efficient than traditional granular media filtration which can lose 10 to 15% of water to backwash, as compared to a five to 10% loss in microfiltration. Additionally, the Clarksville plant has the capacity to deal with material waste — disposing of the dewatered solids to a landfill while the recovered water is recycled and retreated into drinking water. SSR is also contributing to upgrades at the water treatment plant in Bowling Green, KY. To extend the lifespan of newly installed piping the equipment was galvanized, covered in a protective zinc coating to minimize exterior corrosion. While a complete upgrade of any water infrastructure will require a significant reallocation of resources and manpower, there are smaller steps that can be taken to prolong the lifespan of these important facilities.