Studying the epidemiology of pipes

Annie Vanrenterghem-Raven thinks a lot about water pipes these days.

Not the ones used for relaxation. The research assistant professor of civil engineering’s ongoing concern is the infrastructure that provides the precious fluid to those who need it.

Last month, at the American Water Works Association’s Annual Conference and Exposition in Toronto, she presented a paper on the pipes that supply water to more than one million people in southern Nevada. The paper, “Asset Management Best Practices: The Rehabilitation of the LVVWD Distribution Network using CARE-W,” detailed the methodology and software tools used to analyze the conditions and plan for the systematic and efficient rehabilitation of the Las Vegas Valley Water District’s 3,800 miles of buried pipes. The research conducted by Vanrenterghem-Raven and her co-authors, Pat Sampson of the LVVWD and Sigurd Hafskjold of SINTEF Building and Infrastructure in Trondheim, Norway, will enable the District to plan its rehabilitation projects over the next 20 to 50 years.

The project will also provide the District with properly collected and analyzed data on which to base potentially necessary water rate increases. Such data is vital to keep pace with the region’s growing population.

CARE-W, the acronym for Computer Aided Rehabilitation of Water Networks, is a suite of modules that aims to establish a rational framework for water network rehabilitation decision-making. A $3.5 million research project funded by the European Commission, it was completed in 2003.

“CARE-W allows engineers to make decisions based on risk, meaning on the probability of future failures,” said Vanrenterghem-Raven. “Most utilities want a magic bullet, but you have to define risk, which is the multiplication of probability by impact, a new concept at most U.S. water utilities.”

There was little U.S. government funding for this field, which Vanrenterghem-Raven calls “the epidemiology of pipes,” until recently. Two years ago, she received a $125,000 cooperative grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to obtain training on all CARE-W modules and to develop relationships with European CARE-W partners. She was also invited by the EPA to participate in several workshops on developing future research agendas.