Hamilton Kent Blog

The state of the industry with HK’s president, part two: Climate change and watertight tech

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In last month’s state of the industry blog, we interviewed Hamilton Kent president Bernard Grégoire on the shortfalls in underground infrastructure funding and the role of the media in bringing awareness to these issues.

Reports of failed infrastructure bring more attention to growing environmental concerns — like climate change and the resulting increase in severe floods, storms and other weather events — and their impact on underground infrastructure.

Pipe sizing trends

Grégoire observes that pipe sizing tends to vary more these days because weather patterns have changed a great deal in past decades.

“When engineers calculate the size of pipe for stormwater conveyance, they have traditionally referenced data that could be as much as 50 years old.”

These changing weather phenomena should force people to think differently about pipe size requirements for infrastructure projects.

Municipalities must also consider how urban expansion strains sanitary systems.

“The suburbs keep expanding, and water is collected by systems not designed for these volumes,” Grégoire explains.

As sprawling cities contend with undersized systems, the recent spate of heavier rains, storms and flooding bring with them ever more dangerous implications. Grégoire says some cities have been “upsizing” their systems as a precaution, but their efforts tend to overlook the issue of watertightness.

In the case of a big storm, pipes should have the capacity to divert stormwater runoff to a river or other body of water. In times of drought or dry weather, cities can verify a watertight pipe by making sure it’s running empty and, therefore, has not been affected by infiltration.

“Infiltration has two issues,” he explains. “Because you’re draining water from the water table, it reduces the capacity of the pipe when there’s a big storm event. For the same reason, infiltration is also bad for the environment.”

Watertightness ensures the pipe can handle its full capacity during a storm and prevents the pipe from transporting water that is not supposed to be there.

Addressing urgent infrastructure needs

When it comes to watertightness, Grégoire says safe drinking water and sanitary sewers are the two most critical areas for improvement.

Watertight products go hand-in-hand with that long-term vision. Grégoire gives the example of a new storm water system being installed in a city.

“Number one, you must have a clean water supply,” he says. “When we drink good quality water, many people take for granted how much work was involved to get the water to our homes.”

Clean water is top-of-mind for many city officials and engineers, particularly when it comes to managing the cost of water treatment.

“Leaks and water loss in clean water systems are very expensive,” Grégoire explains. “It’s especially painful when clean water is wasted due to weaknesses in the system, whether because of the materials, the installation or both.”

That issue often goes hand-in-hand with sanitary systems. When storms cause water to inflow or infiltrate into a system, the city pays more to treat a greater volume of water, while also increasing a plant’s CO2 emissions.

Watertight systems can play a critical role in saving water from being wasted — and saving municipalities money. As it stands, for most cities, water infrastructure consists mostly of old pipes. These pipes could be corroded, damaged or both, on the verge of the next failure.

As a result, some cities report that a large proportion of their clean water is lost before it reaches residents. One assessment puts the volume at 2.1 trillion gallons per year in the US alone, while others estimate as much as 6 billion per year. Either way, at a time when water seems to be scarcer in certain regions, this is a loss that cannot be afforded.

“Every single drop of water you put into a system should be able to reach the people who use it,” Grégoire says.

Watertight materials offer cities significant cost savings by improving treatment system efficiency and avoiding the added waste and energy used to clean the water, as well as a longer life before repair or replacement. At the end of the day, Grégoire says it’s worth the investment.

“Watertightness can be a significant improvement at a very small premium for the longevity of the infrastructure.”