June 2007, Vol. 19, No.6

Research Notes

17 Cities Begin National Database of Water-Pipe Infrastructure

A group of faculty and researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech; Blacksburg, Va.) are working to create the prototype of a national Internet-based geospatial database of underground water pipes with funding from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. National Science Foundation.

The project, according to a Virginia Tech press release, is a collaboration among Sunil Sinha, project leader and associate professor in the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering; Randy Dymond, associate professor in the department and co-director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Geospatial Information Technology; Thomas Dickerson, research associate; and Rahul Vemulapally, a civil and environmental engineering graduate student from Warangal, India.

“Underground water pipes are the nation’s arteries,” Sinha said, according to the press release. “Unfortunately, they are not in a very healthy state. About 40% of the water is lost because of leaks and other structural damage.”

Sinha added that it is difficult to monitor and maintain underground pipes, but a standardized, Web-based geospatial database of the existing infrastructure information would be helpful to water utility companies and municipalities.

The Internet prototype application will be created based on underground water and wastewater-pipe information supplied by three of the 17 cities that are partnering with Sinha and the Center for Geospatial Information Technology, the press release states. “We are currently receiving data in different formats from Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Seattle — the three pilot cities,” Dymond said. “One of [the center’s] jobs is to take this diverse information and create a standard format that could be used by all partnering cities.”

The geospatial database will include rich, interactive maps of the water-pipe infrastructure, as well as data exploration tools and reports, the press release says. “Users will be able to pan and zoom or easily identify attributes, such as pipe diameters, size, or current condition,” Dickerson explained.

The development of the geospatial database application is part of a group of large-scale water infrastructure projects that Sinha is managing at Virginia Tech. The overall objective of the ongoing water infrastructure research at the university is to improve the decision-making process as it applies to water-pipe infrastructure asset management and renewal programs, according to the press release.

The data received from the partnering cities are stored on San Diego Supercomputer Center managed by the National Science Foundation and supervised by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Only Virginia Tech has full access to the data through the team of faculty and researchers involved in the project, the release notes. All participating utilities have limited access to this national water-pipe infrastructure database.




Green Infrastructure Provides Value
A new tool developed by Annis Water Resources Institute (AWRI; Muskegon, Mich.), the Seidman College of Business at Grand Valley State University (Muskegon, Mich.), and Michigan State University (East Lansing) is designed to help residents see the value of green infrastructure.

The INtegrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services Tool (INVEST) was developed in cooperation with the West Michigan Strategic Alliance (WMSA; Grand Rapids) as part of its Green Infrastructure Initiative, according to a WMSA press release. The tool is available at www.invest.wri.gvsu.edu.

INVEST enables users to see that there are dollar values associated with environmental assets, according to the press release. The estimates can be viewed at the regional or county level for different types of land use, including croplands and orchards, forest and prairie, water and wetlands, and dunes and beaches. Economic values were determined for these land uses by considering the benefits they provide to the human population, which include producing food, supplying raw materials, providing fish and wildlife habitat, controlling erosion, assimilating waste, filtering and supplying water, cycling nutrients, and providing aesthetic and recreational value. The online tool lets users see the details of how each value was estimated, along with a relative confidence level for each estimate. The tool estimates that the total value of natural land in the region is at least $1.6 billion.

“People do not normally associate monetary values to these services because there is no green value market for them, but we do know that they have value,” said Alan Steinman, AWRI director and principal investigator for this work. “INVEST is designed to provide citizens with a preliminary look at the value of services that nature provides for free.”

Steinman added that the tool is a starting point. Steinman and Elaine Sterrett Isely, project manager for INVEST, will be educating city and township planners and others on the use of INVEST and seeking input to make the tool even more useful to government leaders, as well as citizens, the press release says.

“This is an effort by West Michigan to better understand and measure our quality of life,” said Greg Northrup, WMSA president. “We hope the monetary values will help residents realize that maintaining our green infrastructure makes good sense in terms of both our environment and our regional economy.”