Not surprisingly, the best way to predict
future breaks is to keep track of past
problems. We have developed guidelines
to help utilities to gather data and use it
predictively. We have also researched how
customer expectations influence the need
to repair certain mains, and developed a
decision tool to help utilities communicate
about asset investment to customers.
Philadelphia’s water distribution system stretches over 3,000 miles. It is 70 percent cast iron, built nearly
a century ago. Replacing the entire system would cost $3 billion. The nearly 200-year-old utility serves
1. 5 million people.
“Of course we can’t spend that much, so we manage the replacement infrastructure accordingly,” says Matthew
Smith, who manages the asset management and planning program for the Philadelphia Water Department.
“If your infrastructure degrades, so does the city. If water main breaks go undetected, you can get
sinkholes beneath the street,” Smith said.
“If the streets give way, you have the possibility of a major service disruption. Integrity is the key factor in
public perception. If degradation of service goes too far, your reputation with the customer is shot.”
“So we’re replacing infrastructure over time to prevent this from occurring. Of course you can’t catch it all,
but you can just try to manage it—analyzing which pipes, water treatment plants, and storage facilities
are most at risk—and where failures could affect the most people.”
“The Water Research Foundation deals with all of these issues. We, as professionals, become more
knowledgeable through our participation in the organization. The information gleaned through their
research helps us serve our customers better.”