Photo: Construction crews lower a section of 48-inch fiberglass reinforced pipe into a trench.
Water is a fundamental resource that is necessary for survival. It is used every day, from filling a glass to washing a load of laundry, and from watering the lawn to cleaning food and bathing. That is why the continuous supply of clean drinking water and the disposal of wastewater require vital infrastructure within the City of Irving. Water typically travels more than 100 miles before it reaches an Irving resident’s kitchen or bathroom faucet. Most of Irving’s water supply travels from Jim Chapman Lake near Commerce, to Lewisville Lake, and then to a City of Dallas treatment plant. From there, water is pumped into Irving and through a portion of the 720 miles of underground water pipelines to reach homes and businesses.
The lifespan of a pipeline is about 50 years. Some of the city’s pipes were installed in the 1950s. Much like a vehicle, aging infrastructure requires regular maintenance, repair and eventually, replacement.
The City of Irving Water Utilities Department works diligently to provide excellent service for its customers, including continuously sampling and testing water quality; flushing fire hydrants to keep safe water in the system; making repairs; planning for future growth; consistently cleaning grease and debris from sewer lines; capturing data on the system’s performance; and developing new tools to optimize capital improvement decisions.
Given the age of Irving’s infrastructure, there is a constant need to replace pipes to avoid water loss, sewer leaks, interruptions in service, and fines for failure to meet regulatory standards. Line replacements are critical to maintain water quality and to prevent outages and property damage caused by line breaks and sewer backups. Replacements are expensive, and costs increase over time.
To decrease costs and disruptions to customers, the city is embracing innovative approaches to water and wastewater system maintenance. Through increased coordination between the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) and Water Utilities, water and wastewater lines that lie near one another are scheduled for simultaneous replacement to save money, labor and disruption to residents.
The city has launched its Road to the Future project, a $100 million investment in Irving’s street infrastructure over the next five years. Water Utilities is participating in the program by evaluating water and sewer infrastructure where streets will be replaced, and providing funding to replace the water and sewer pipes if they are near the end of their life span. This helps reduce the risk of a water or sewer pipe failing and having to cut into new paving for the repair.
The Water Utilities Department collects water samples daily to evaluate water quality, ensure a minimal level of chlorine for disinfection, and confirm that water is safe for public consumption across the city. State and federal agencies, including the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), have established water quality standards to ensure that utilities provide safe water.
When water quality nears the minimum standards allowable, it is flushed from the distribution system, usually by opening fire hydrants. This occurs more often in areas of lower usage, at the end of water lines and during the warmest months.
Flushing water from the distribution system is similar to restaurants and grocery stores disposing of food that is past its expiration date. Unfortunately, water cannot be evaluated based on appearance. It requires sampling and analysis to determine its quality and to ensure that water meets the standards required by state and federal agencies. Flushing is critical to public health and safety. Flushing also is necessary during and after repairs and when new lines are installed, as well as when complaints are received regarding air or debris in lines, as well as color or other issues. As water distribution lines age, flushing is required more frequently. Hydrants are an important tool, not only for fire suppression, but to flush water that has “expired,” to ensure that fresh, high-quality water arrives daily at each home and business in Irving.
Water Utilities is responsible for these capital improvement items: water and sewer lines; sewer pump and lift stations; ground and elevated storage tanks; water pump stations; meter vaults and meter infrastructure; and systems to remotely monitor and control pump stations and other critical infrastructure. Replacing the city’s entire water and wastewater systems at today’s market value would cost well over $1 billion. The hefty costs associated with Water Utilities are among many reasons the department is focused on using updated software and data aggregation techniques to prioritize spending.
The city has water and wastewater master plans that are periodically updated and include detailed models of the system’s pumping facilities, tanks and largest pipes, along with future population and flow projections. The plans prioritize infrastructure needs for customer growth and replacement of some of the larger, critical facilities. The city also looks at various data to prioritize other segments of pipe in need of replacement that may not be addressed through the master plans. Unlike driving down the street where potholes are easy to see, water utilities are built underground and condition assessments are difficult.
Location is a key component of prioritization. Water Utilities monitors work order locations, including where city work crews are sent to repair failed or leaking systems, the location of resident calls for assistance, and areas in which residents are without service for any period of time.
During the past 10 years, the department has upgraded its data analytics from paper to digital programs as the market responds to the growing need for better tools. Software companies are developing technology that will help collect data and improve analysis to assess current or future needs for infrastructure repair and replacement. Such analysis includes the consideration of pipeline materials, soil samples, work orders and other related information. Using the latest technology, the city is sending robotic cameras through its entire 660-mile wastewater pipeline system, looking for defects and developing condition assessments. This process will take several years to complete, but it will assist in rating the wastewater lines and will record the most up-to-date data on Irving’s wastewater infrastructure.
For a comprehensive look at Water Utilities, see Irving’s Water Quality Report at CityofIrving.org/Water-Report. N
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