Going with the Flow: Engineering Efficient Water Systems
In most municipalities, long before someone fills their coffee maker, water glass, or tub, a team of engineers has spent considerable time figuring out the best possible way to get them the water they’ll need safely, reliably, and cost-effectively.
From the water towers visible in most communities to complex pump and tank systems, municipal water systems require an extensive period of research, planning, and problem-solving before they can be built and implemented. Engineering teams, for example, have to make sure that the system will have enough capacity to meet current, and future, demand. To ensure thorough planning, and prevent unwanted surprises, extensive amounts of data are collected on the existing system, the surrounding environment, and the water source.
To better understand projects like this, it might help to take a look at the components that make up most municipal water systems. In most cases, they include a:
• Well pump
• Booster pumps
• Chlorine injection device
• Chemical treatment system
• Ground storage tank
• Hydropneumatic tank (regulates system pressures)
• Distribution system
So, how do all of these elements come together to get water from its source to users throughout a community? Initially, groundwater is pumped via water wells, and surface water flows from nearby lakes and reservoirs. The city of Houston, for example, owns water rights to more than 200 million gallons per day of groundwater supplies and more than 1.2 billion gallons per day of surface water.
Before going to end-users, all water is treated. Generally, that process includes transporting water to treatment centers via pipeline; completing multiple stages of filtration to remove algae, debris, and particles; and disinfection, usually by chlorination.
From there, the water is stored, and as needed, it’s pumped to homes, schools, businesses — any building that uses it.
Engineering water systems in the greater Houston area comes with its own set of considerations, beginning with spatial challenges. Gas, sewer, fiber optic, and water systems are all competing for space. Engineers also must ensure there’s enough room for the water system’s current and future infrastructure and comply with Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) requirements to maintain the prescribed distances, often referred to as setbacks, between utilities.
WGA Consulting Engineers works on municipal water system projects regularly. A recent example is the Greenwood Village Water System in north Houston. Not only did our engineers address spatial challenges and ensure the system complied with TCEQ setback requirements during this upgrade project, they also overcame the challenges of older infrastructure and the space restraints that come with working in a well-established neighborhood.