Pumped Up!

By Dr. Mark LeChevallier – November 10, 2011 – Comment

Often, when I speak about “aging infrastructure” at conferences around the country, people first assume that I’m speaking only about pipes in the ground.  And, in fact, there are some very outdated water pipes out there in communities across the country.  A nearly 100-year-old cast iron pipe was in the news over the summer as part of a major water main break in the Bronx, N.Y. .  What’s not as well known, however, is that in many cases, the pumps used to force water through a system are as old as the pipes – and very energy inefficient.

As it turns out, 80% to 90% of the energy used in water treatment and delivery is in the “delivery” side of the equation. The heart of our industry, then, lies in moving water from the source to the tap. And with each gallon of water weighing about 8 lbs., we’re doing some heavy lifting.  Where gravity can be harnessed for the job, the impact is lessened.  In many communities, this isn’t an option, however.

In California, a mind boggling 19% of all energy use in the state goes towards the treatment and delivery of water (versus between 3% and 4% of all annual energy use in the U.S. as a whole). The reason the figure is so much higher in certain states such as California, is that water often must be pumped long distances from source to consumer.

The replacement of aging pumps, then, and the development of newer, more energy efficient pumps, must be a part of the national dialog on our aging infrastructure.