Utilities can save their communities substantial amounts of money, reduce the need for unaffordable rate increases or financing arrangements, and improve the environmental sustainability of their operations – all while maintaining and enhancing system control.

Around the world, critical valves are in poor repair, or even inoperable. When critical valves fail, managers have effectively lost control of their system, increasing vulnerability to water main breaks or any other system hazard. Once valves have failed, utilities have traditionally sought to replace them, often at great cost, both in terms of time and expense.

But what if there were another way? It turns out there is a far more economical, less risky, and more sustainable option: preventative maintenance, repair, and rehabilitation. High performing utilities are turning away from the wasteful practice of replacing valves that can be restored to full function, instead engaging experts in asset renewal to extend the life of those assets at a substantially lower cost.

This white paper will highlight:

  • identifying the true cost of large valve replacements
  • understanding the cost savings of a repair vs replace strategy
  • the benefits of performing routine critical valve assessments
  • what to look for in a valve assessment partner

While metallic force mains have been historically difficult to manage, a risk-based approach increases confidence in the condition of the pipeline.

After the Clean Water Act of the 70s required control of wastewater discharge, an increase in force main construction and management across the country was observed. As these assets are now approaching 50 years in age, reducing the risk of failure has become a major regulatory priority. Nothing grabs headline news like the failure of a force main, which can be extremely damaging to the environment and harmful to a utility’s reputation.

Historically, wastewater force mains have been difficult to manage, especially those made with ferrous materials, where the failure method is slow when compared to concrete pressure pipe.

As well, pressurized sewer mains have special operational challenges that don’t apply to gravity sewer mains as they typically cannot be taken out of service for inspection, and due to the presence of solids in the fluid, force mains represent a far more abrasive environment than potable systems such that assessment methods for water mains may not be applicable.

The presence of gas pockets increases the potential of corrosion in metallic pipes.

Gas pockets are of significant concern in force mains.

The primary failure mechanism of ferrous force mains is due to internal corrosion. Gas pockets are of significant concern in force mains, as concentrations of hydrogen sulfide gas within wastewater can 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 wall.

Therefore, a first step in assessing force main condition should be the identification of gas pocket locations within the pipeline.

Pure Technologies has performed an analysis of force mains inspected using acoustic based technologies in order to better characterize the frequency and location of gas pockets. Based on the analysis, it was found that 72% of gas pockets were not at known high points or air release valves, therefore, the most precise way to identify gas pockets within a force main is through the implementation of inline acoustic inspection technologies.

The collection of gas pocket locations alone will not indicate the condition of the pipeline, but instead identifies locations where an increase in corrosion potential is observed. To ascertain the true condition of a pressure pipe, higher resolution electromagnetic technologies are required. These technologies measure pipe wall thickness in ferrous materials and broken wire or bar wraps in concrete pressure pipe.

Once the condition data is collected, advanced analytics can be applied to estimate the pipeline’s remaining useful life.

“Previous analyses involved straight-line assumptions – comparing the pipe wall thickness at installation against what it is today. However this doesn’t give an accurate picture of how pipes degrade…by using statistical modeling we can develop a more predictable degradation rate based off of over 14,000 miles of inspection data Pure has collected over the past 30+ years.”

Jennifer Steffens, Market Sector Leader, Water and Wastewater, Pure Technologies

Desktop studies are not always reliable.

While often the first thought is to replace the aging wastewater assets based on factors such as age and failure history, this option makes neither logical nor financial sense. With so many miles of buried pipelines and such limited capital budgets, utilities don’t have hundreds of millions to spend on replacing pipelines which still have remaining useful life.

At Pure Technologies, we believe there is a better way. A more feasible approach to ensuring the safe operation of force mains is to undertake a risk-based approach to manage their operation. A risk-based approach will provide decision intelligence on which assets require rehabilitation or replacement to extend their useful life. Or which assets can be left alone.

Our approach is to help utilities evaluate the current state of their buried infrastructure and provide them with high confidence condition and operating data.   We then couple this with our years of extensive experience and project history (more than 12,000 kilometers of pressure pipe assessment) to provide utilities with actionable information, which allows them to make informed decisions as to the management of these critical assets.

The value of a risk-based approach to manage force mains.

Utilities that embrace a risk-based approach to manage their force main inventory have found that on average they can safely manage their force mains for roughly 5 to 15 percent of the replacement cost. This pragmatic approach focuses on providing real condition data through assessment, which can be used to selectively renew isolated areas of damaged pipe in lieu of capital replacement.

At Pure, we recommend a risk-based approach to manage wastewater force mains by focusing on four main areas:

  • Preliminary Risk Analysis
  • Internal Corrosion Potential Surveys using Inline Acoustics
  • Pipe Wall Assessment using Advanced Technologies
  • Condition Data Analysis and Advanced Risk Assessment

Some of the common reasons leading to failure on ferrous pipes.

Preliminary Risk Analysis

Preliminary analysis includes collecting the right data to develop a prioritized plan for assessment, including the selection of appropriate technologies. To help make preliminary decisions, Pure collects all available information to understand the history of the pipeline and the likely failure modes.

The data analysis will provide an understanding of the construction and context of the pipeline. Data of interest typically includes pipe characteristics, installation factors, environmental and performance-related data, operational data, and failure data.

Acoutic-based SmartBall® tool locates leaks and gas pockets

Acoustic-based SmartBall® tool locates leaks and gas pockets.

Sahara is an inline tethered tool used to locate leaks and gas pockets in pressurized lines.

Internal Corrosion Potential Survey.

An internal corrosion potential survey uses inline tools to locate gas pockets that can increase the potential for corrosion and eventual breakdown of the pipe wall. Pure Technologies typically deploys its acoustic-based SmartBall® leak and gas detection tool, as well as its tethered Sahara® leak and gas pocket detection platform to locate gas pockets in pressurized lines of all materials.

Pipe Wall Assessment.

While the presence of gas pockets may indicate areas of potential concern, it will not give a quantifiable answer as to the structural life of the pipe.

Pipe wall assessment is completed using a variety of technology solutions to identify defects and deterioration of the pipe wall in a variety of pipe materials. For pipe wall assessment of metallic force mains, common internal electromagnetic technologies include the PipeWalker® and PureRobotics® platforms, as well as the free-swimming 24-detector PipeDiver® assessment tool, developed to identify electromagnetic anomalies indicating pipe wall loss.

PipeDiver® assessment tool identifies electromagnetic anomalies indicating pipe wall loss.

Condition Assessment Analysis.

Condition data analysis and risk assessment evaluates how to safely renew or extend the life of force mains. The risk evaluation considers not only the probability of failure (condition) of the force main based on inspection data, but also the consequence of failure in order to make sound engineering decisions.

Understanding the risk of the pipeline is an important step in selecting and justifying the appropriate condition assessment methods. As the risk of the asset increases, the value of using high-resolution comprehensive assessment techniques increases. Higher resolution data results in more confident decision making, and would justify and prioritize the application of assessment techniques.

Diagnostic analytics helps utilities move risk assessment forward.

In the past, inspections were done, the data analysed, and the results passed on to the utility. Pure Technologies now offers a more holistic program of diagnostic analytics. This includes analysis of what caused the corrosion problem within the pipe wall, what the impact the corrosion has on the life of the pipeline, and a prescriptive analysis of how it needs to be repaired or rehabilitated.

The next step gathering momentum? Predictive analysis to elongate service life.


Case Study

The City of Calgary provides water and wastewater services for more than 1 million people in the Greater Calgary area. For many municipalities, accurate and regular condition assessment of large-diameter pressure pipelines has become more important in recent years as these assets continue to age and risk of failure increases.

In Calgary, three critical feedermains (14th Street/North Hillhurst, John Laurie and Top Hill) are each constructed of different materials: lined cylinder pipe (LCP), prestressed concrete cylinder pipe (PCCP) and bar wrapped pipe (BWP). The pipes range from 750mm (30-inch) to 900mm (35- inch) in diameter.

Project Details

PureRobotics® electromagnetic condition assessment

PureRobotics® HD-CCTV inspection

Risk Prioritization

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

Project Highlights

Condition assessment on 2.92 miles (4.7 kms) of feedermain pipes

Data identified 8 pipes with electromagnetic anomalies consistent with broken pressing wire wraps

HD-CTTV identified 3 pipes with damaged internal mortar and exposed cylinder

In an annual condition assessment program, The City inspects its PCCP, BWP and LCP for deterioration. By identifying isolated pipe sections with deterioration, the City is able to make selective repairs in favor of full-scale replacement, which comes at a high cost and may replace sections with significant remaining useful life.

In data collected from more than 14,000 miles of pressure pipe condition assessment, Pure Technologies has found that only a small percentage of pipes (less than 5 percent) are in need of repair and therefore have years of service left. Condition assessment data also suggests that pipe distress is localized, and significant ROI can be achieved by locating and addressing isolated problems through structural inspection.

To inspect the three feedermains, the City deployed PureRobotics®, a tethered robotic system that delivers live video, and is equipped with electromagnetic technology that can be configured to inspect a variety of pipelines and materials with different operational conditions.

In BWP, the technology identifies and locates broken bars and areas of corrosion on the steel cylinder, which are the main indication this type of pipe will eventually fail. Although BWP looks similar to PCCP in cross section, the design and materials are significantly different.

PCCP is a concrete pipe that remains under compression because of the prestressing wires, with the thin-gauge steel cylinder acting as a water membrane. With BWP, the cylinder plays a much larger role in the structural integrity of the pipe. BWP is essentially designed as a steel pipe with mild steel used to manufacture the steel cylinder and steel bars. PCCP utilizes mild steel for the cylinder, but high strength steel is utilized for the wire, which is wrapped under high tension. As a result, the bar in BWP and wire in PCCP respond differently to environmental conditions that facilitate corrosion.

The high strength steel wire in PCCP is smaller in diameter and wrapped under higher tension, therefore corrosion makes it quite vulnerable to breakage. The mild steel bars in BWP are thicker in diameter and wrapped under less tension, therefore corrosion takes significantly longer to lead to breakage. The type of failure is also much different; PCCP tends to fail suddenly with a large dispersion of energy. This type of failure is less likely in BWP where failures are similar to steel pipe with long periods of leakage occurring prior to rupture. Because of the differences in make-up, BWP and PCCP are inspected using unique methods to determine their structural condition.

Of the 694 pipes cumulatively inspected over the 4.74 kilometers, eight (8) pipes were identified with electromagnetic anomalies consistent with broken prestressing wraps. Additionally, two (2) pipes were found with an anomalous signal not characteristic of broken bar wraps that can be attributed to a change in the pipe cylinder.

Evaluation of the John Laurie Boulevard Feedermain concluded that one (1) pipe was identified to have an anomalous signal likely caused by a non-uniform cylinder. Images obtained from the robot indicated this pipe has damaged internal mortar and exposed cylinder. Additionally, two (2) pipes on this feedermain were identified to have damaged internal mortar and exposed cylinder, but did not contain anomalous signals.

The City of Calgary was pleased with the results, and through condition assessment, has been able to identify and address individual distressed pipe sections on otherwise serviceable feedermains. This has allowed the City to avoid potential ruptures, while increasing service reliability and useful life of the feedermains.

Traditional methods of wastewater condition assessment focuses almost exclusively on the gravity system and valve
actuation, using tools such as smoke testing, CCTV, and zoom cameras. While effective on gravity mains and valves,
these methods are not applicable in force mains.

Inspecting force mains is more challenging due to lack of redundancy, lack of access points, cost, technology limitations, while the consequence of force main failures can be significant financially, environmentally and socially.

A successful wastewater asset management program uses a holistic approach which prioritizes the entire system, collects data through condition assessment and provides analyzed reports in order to develop a targeted, informed action plan for long-term sustainability of a collection sewer system.


Comprehensive condition assessment of wastewater force mains provides significant challenges to owners/operators of collection systems as the ability to shut down or expose the pipeline for a thorough inspection is often impractical due to operational and/or financial considerations. Traditional gravity sewer inspection techniques (i.e. visual-based technologies) do not always transfer easily to their wastewater pressure pipe counterparts and visual assessments do not provide the structural condition of force mains – something that is critical in determining the true pipe condition. Therefore, a different set of inspection tools and assessment techniques is required for force mains.

The most effective strategy to safely manage a force main inventory is to implement a risk-based approach for any data collection, inspection, condition assessment, and management techniques. Using asset risk to guide the management strategies, an owner/operator can ensure they are implementing the right approach, at the right time, with the lowest financial impact. While recent advances in force main inspection technologies, assessment techniques, and repair/rehabilitation methods now allow for substantial extension of existing asset service life, a risk-based approach to their implementation will ensure resources are focused on the correct pipelines. The goal should always be to focus the proper resources in managing the asset while safely getting the most service life out of the force main.


  • Travis B. Wagner, Pure Technologies Ltd., Columbia, MD, USA
  • Jennifer Steffens, Pure Technologies Ltd., Atlanta, GA, USA


Underground pipelines are among the most valuable, yet neglected, assets in the public arena. They provide essential services such as supply of energy and drinking water and collection of wastewater. But we install the cheapest we can, bury it and forget about it – at least until something goes wrong. Then we are faced with having to fix the problem under emergency conditions, often considering only immediate needs and not the future operation of the pipeline in question.

This infrastructure must be seen as an asset, and managed as such. Properly maintained the pipe networks are valuable assets that are critical to delivering services to customers, and in any business the means of connecting product or service to customers is a major link in the business value chain. Not to maintain this network is negligent bordering on criminal.


A significant percentage of the United States force mains have been in use for several decades and never been assessed or proactively managed. To safely rely on these pipelines, their condition should be periodically checked to ensure there are no locations susceptible to failure.

In addition, many wastewater agencies are faced with EPA consent decrees that require condition assessment of force mains. As a result, many agencies are now faced with the daunting task of assessing their sewer force mains—a task that until recently was often not feasible due to operational constraints. However, Pure Technologies continues to improve technology and can now obtain a realistic assessment of a force main within the common constraints of most wastewater agencies.


  • Michael S. Higgins, P.E.; Pure Technologies, Columbia, MD, USA.