The Underground Truth

Water – more than electricity or gas – is the most infrastructure-intensive utility there is because water requires pumping, treatment, storage and transport through pipes over long distances. Water utilities are paying attention to their infrastructure now more than ever because it is reaching or passing its useful life. Just as you need to maintain, repair and periodically replace your roof so it continues to protect you from the rain, the Board of Water Supply (BWS) needs to do the same for Oahu's water facilities and infrastructure. It is a large undertaking.

bws facilities and infrastructure

BWS has one of the largest water facilities and infrastructure system in the country.

Why Do Breaks Occur?

The BWS collects information on main breaks to help determine the cause of failure. This information is used to identify what we might do to reduce breaks in the future, for example, by changing pipe materials, design specifications, construction methods, or other protective measures. Unfortunately, because of the sudden release of water when a break occurs, much of the evidence is often destroyed, so this is a very complicated task. 

As part of condition assessments done for the Water Master Plan, the BWS has identified certain pipe materials and corrosion as the main reasons why pipes break on Oahu. Cast iron pipes were the industry standard for water pipelines starting in the late 1940s. Now among our oldest, these cast iron pipes are more prone to corrosion. Other factors that can reduce the useful life of pipe are smaller diameters, higher water pressures, corrosive soils, and construction quality. 

By understanding these underlying causes, BWS can proactively replace pipes to reduce the risk of future breaks. The BWS plans to increase annual pipeline replacement to 21 miles per year within the next 10 years. Currently, approximately 6 miles of pipeline are replaced annually.

predicted number of main breaks

(Source: Water Master Plan Quarterly Update, November 2017)


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Posted: 4/26/18