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Case Study

DC Water, Washington

The District of Columbia’s water distribution system serves 600,000 residents and 16.6 million annual visitors to the nation’s capital. Local water utility DC Water provides water and wastewater service to the region, with water distribution assets that include approximately 1,300 miles of water pipes, 1,800 miles of sewer lines, 36,000 pipeline valves and 9,300 public fire hydrants.

Project Details

Asset management

Operations improvement

Information services

Engineering support

Pipe Material
Inspection Length
4.74 km (2.9 miles)
750mm-900mm (29-35 inch)
Transmission Type

Project Highlights


Hands-on inspection of all


fire hydrants in district


Program replaces/upgrades about


most critical hydrants

Program gathers location data, operational capabilities, flow rate and maintenance

Possibly first city in U.S. to use Google Earth to display hydrant location & maintenance information


Almost half of DC Water’s fire hydrants were antiquated units made at a local prison foundry that closed decades ago, causing problems with their incompatible hose outlet threads, nonstandard hydrant components and the lack of any source for replacement parts.

The other half of DC Water’s fire hydrants included about 24 different hydrant makes and models, but only two of those hydrant types met approved industry standards. Further, the utility was unsure of the precise location of many of their hydrants. They had no reliable information about their maintenance history, their operational flow rate–or even if they worked at all.

Several high-profile incidents involving inoperable fire hydrants at the scenes of major fires in the Washington DC area accelerated a planned DC Water project to inspect, operate and assess the mechanical condition and operational reliability of all the hydrants located within the District of Columbia. To help lead the program, DC Water partnered with the industry leader in hydrant management solutions, Wachs Water Services.


The project called for a hands-on inspection of all 9,300 public fire hydrants within the District of Columbia, replacing or upgrading about 3,000 of the most critical fire hydrants and installing about 600 new hydrants each year.

The project also required gathering and recording vital hydrant location data, and operational capabilities and flow rate, maintenance history, and current functional status into DC Water’s GIS (geographical information systems) and CMMS (computerized maintenance management systems) so the vital information could be accessed quickly during an emergency response.


The Wachs Water Services team began with an analysis of the utility’s existing records, maps and documentation to help find “cannot locate” hydrants and their connecting valves and pipelines, and enter the correct location data into the utility’s GIS system.

Teamed with DC Water employees, Wachs Water Services field crews methodically located, operated, and flow tested the thousands of fire hydrants and isolation valves, repairing or replacing them as needed, and “color banding” the hydrants to serve as a visual indicator so firefighters are instantly aware of the water flow capacity of a particular hydrant.

As the field technicians operated each hydrant, they also recorded its precise GPS location, and collected critical data describing the operational status of each hydrant, including manufacturer, model, installation data, repair history, flow rate and number of turns to open. This hydrant attribute data was entered into DC Water’s GIS system for quick system-wide retrieval and analysis.

DC Water became one the first US cities to use Google Earth to publicly display hydrant location and maintenance information. DC Water has become a national example of how to comprehensively upgrade and renew an aging water distribution system to better serve the public.