Virginia Tech University researchers are working to create an Internet-based geospatial database of the United States' pipes that would help utilities and municipalities better monitor and maintain underground infrastructure.
``Underground water pipes are the nation's arteries,'' said project leader Sunil Sinha, an associate professor in the Blacksburg, Va., university's department of civil and environmental engineering. ``Unfortunately, they are not in a very healthy state. About 40 percent of the water is lost because of leaks and other structural damage,'' he said in a Virginia Tech news release
The cities of Atlanta, Pittsburgh and Seattle are acting as pilot cities for the project, and Virginia Tech's Center for Geospatial Information Technology will use the three cities' infrastructure data to create the Internet prototype application.
The project researchers want to create a system that will enable all cities and municipalities to share potable water and sanitary sewer piping data. This will help city leaders and engineers better understand what pipe materials work best in certain applications.
Bob Walker, executive director of Dallas-based Uni-Bell PVC Pipe Association, said corroding metal pipe and fittings represent 80-90 percent of the water-loss problem in the United States. Municipalities throughout the country collectively spend $36 billion annually repairing broken water mains, and replacing defective pipe.
Nearly 6 billion gallons of water are lost every day.
The nation's oldest cities have old, aging infrastructure - mostly cast iron and asbestos-cement. It is cost-prohibitive to replace aging but functional pipe, so decision makers are forced to wait for failure before replacement.
Plastic pipe advocates would benefit from a database that supports their position that plastic pipe is superior to alternative materials in water-transfer applications, where the life expectancy of plastic pipe, be it polyethylene or PVC, is about 100 years.
``We're trying to develop this national data model so that we have some level of consistency across the cities,'' said another associate professor in Virginia Tech's civil and environmental engineering department, Randy Dymond.
``We're reinventing the wheel. Everybody's trying to do the same thing a different way,'' Dymond said. ``If we can define a data standard, we can help people. The ability to share data is key.''