How city of Belmont manages its metallic force mains

City of Belmont Skyline

To help budget over the next 20 years, the City of Belmont (City) wanted to proactively understand and assess their force mains through a comprehensive condition assessment. Located in the San Francisco Bay area, Belmont serves 26,000 residents and maintains more than 90 miles of sewer mains comprising of 85 miles of gravity mains and 5 miles of force mains, of varying size and material.

To address its goal, the City contracted Pure Technologies (Pure) to deploy a wide range of both proprietary and third-party technologies and techniques to achieve a holistic assessment. The risk associated with a failure was significant, owing to a lack of redundancy, difficulty and cost of bypassing flow and potential for severe consequences to public health and the environment.

Pure provided inspection and condition assessment services on eight of the City’s force mains. The project scope included GAP analysis, condition assessmentengineering analysis, and necessary repair or replacement recommendations to establish a long-term management plan for Belmont’s force main inventory.

Variety of solutions and technologies used to assess inventory

A number of solutions and technologies were used to assess Belmont’s force mains. Phase one involved a GAP analysis, performed by interviewing operations staff and reviewing historic information, GIS maps, and drawings.

Phase two included an assessment of the eight force mains through the use of various technologies, including SmartBall® leak and gas pocket detection, SmartBall Pipe Wall Assessment (PWA), soil corrosion survey, hydrogen sulfide monitoring, transient pressure monitoring, and hydraulic evaluation.

SmartBall with extraction tool and controls

SmartBall leak detection is a free-flowing tool used to locate leaks and gas pockets in pressurized pipelines. The tool is equipped with a highly sensitive acoustic sensor that is able to locate “pinhole” sized leaks. Pipeline leaks are of concern for force mains as these emit illegal discharges to the environment and are often found to be a precursor of major failures. In metallic pipes, gas pockets are of significant concern, as hydrogen sulfide gas within wastewater may be subsequently converted to sulfuric acid by bacteria in the slime layer on the pipe wall.  This may cause corrosion and eventual breakdown of the pipe’s exposed surface.

Pipe wall assessment (PWA) is a screening technology for assessing the condition of metallic pipelines by identifying pipe sections with increased levels of stress. SmartBall gas pocket and leak detection services were used for the 8-12-inch diameter mains.

Transient pressure monitoring and hydraulic evaluation used on the smaller mains

Transient pressure monitoring and hydraulic evaluation was used to evaluate the smaller 6-inch force mains. Hydraulic pressure transients occur in pipelines when steady-state-conditions of the system change due to pressure or flow disturbances. It is important to conduct transient pressure monitoring and hydraulic evaluation because damage from pressure transients can include cracking of mortar coating or lining, crack propagation, movement at joints, and structural fatigue.

During the condition assessment, Pure evaluated the likelihood and consequence of failure criteria and developed a scoring system, placing each force main in one of three categories: low risk, moderate risk, or high risk.

Satellite image with location map

For phase three, Pure conducted a life cycle and financial analysis, outlining the potential life and replacement/repair costs for each force main. By comparing results identified in each assessment phase, the City of Belmont can now move forward and create both a short-term and long-term rehabilitation plan.

“Through innovative technology, comprehensive data gathering and analysis, Pure Technologies helped us to assess condition of our large force mains within budget constraints, to help us plan our future capital improvement program…”

Each main evaluated with an overall risk rating

The GAP analysis included a review of all the information given to Pure at the beginning of the project and included historic information, GIS, and some drawings. During this phase, many of the parameters such as pipe length and material were found to differ from what was originally thought through the process of internal inspections and external excavations.

Pure conducted the SmartBall leak and gas pocket detection survey on four force mains and found 21 unique anomalies. The SmartBall PWA discovered seven indications of stress on the two metallic pipelines.  Hydraulic analysis of all eight force mains revealed that several force mains have a nominal increased potential for failure due to significant pressure swings and a large quantity of pumping cycles. Hydrogen sulfide monitoring was performed on six force mains to quantify the potential for internal corrosion caused by hydrogen gas.

Once all tests were completed, each force main was evaluated by its likelihood of failure and consequence of failure, and then given an overall risk rating.

Assessment includes life cycle and financial analysis

By determining overall risk for each force main, Pure was able to complete a life cycle and financial analysis and provide Belmont with the best data available to make long-term decisions on managing their assets. Each force main was given an estimate of its remaining life as well as a financial comparison of different management option costs. The financial comparison took capital replacement costs into account with Pure’s Assess & Address™ approach in both the best case and worst case scenarios. In both instances, the management options showed costs significantly lower than a full capital replacement option.

Using both the data and short and long-term recommendations provided by Pure, Belmont is now fully equipped to make the best possible decision and budget accordingly over the next 20 years, while continuing to address and mitigate risk.