Earthquakes a Big Concern in Oakland's Pipeline Replacement Plans

The East Bay Municipal Utility District has long been a national leader in pipeline innovation, and now it's pioneering water infrastructure projects that could mitigate the impact of seismic events in the region

Earthquakes a Big Concern in Oakland's Pipeline Replacement Plans

Here, East Bay Municipal Utility District crews work to install about 2,800 feet of U.S. Pipe's earthquake-resistant ductile iron pipe in Berkeley, California, which runs along the Hayward Fault line.

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According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Hayward Fault — situated just east of the San Francisco Bay — may be ready to produce a magnitude 6.8 to 7.0 earthquake. That’s an event that would affect the drinking water infrastructure for a population of well over 1.4 million people.

The area first experienced a similarly destructive earthquake back in 1868 when it was sparsely populated. The high probability of another earthquake of that magnitude is something that weighs heavily on the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) in Oakland, California, which provides water and wastewater services to the region.

EBMUD manages 4,200 miles of pipe within its service area and experiences 800 to 1,000 main breaks per year. Five years ago, it launched an initiative called the Pipeline Rebuild Program to address those breaks.

Before the launch, the utility’s pipeline replacement rate hovered at about 10 miles per year, which meant it would take approximately 400 years to replace 4,000 miles of pipe. Now, thanks to the program, EBMUD has successfully increased that replacement rate. Last year it replaced 17 miles of pipe, and this year they expect to replace 20 miles, on the way ultimately toward 40 miles per year

However, that goal is hardly the primary objective. David Katzev, senior engineer at EBMUD, says the main aim of the initiative is to research, pilot test and streamline work methods. Everything from planning, designing and building pipeline jobs, to careful record-keeping, mapping and maintenance.

“We’re looking at innovations, and we’re constantly looking for ways to do our work better,” says Katzev. 

Each day 11 crews are out in the service area replacing pipe. EBMUD plans to add more staff so it can increase the number of teams working on replacements to reach that 40-mile goal. 

Developing earthquake resistance

EBMUD was one of the first water utilities in the country to use artificial intelligence (AI) to identify vulnerabilities and risks in its pipeline system. Crews mapped the entire pipeline system and graded each section for risk on a scale from one to five, with five being the most vulnerable. AI takes the guesswork out of the plan, and pipes with the highest risk are replaced first.

When planning and designing pipeline replacement jobs, Katzev says seismic events are a primary concern, so research and pilot testing is a big part of the Pipeline Rebuild program. One example is an earthquake-resistant ductile iron pipe (ERDIP) by U.S. Pipe.

Katzev says the beauty of ERDIP is a joint located about every 10 to 20 feet that allows the pipe to move back and forth and bend. You can achieve about 3 or 4 inches of movement per joint. When an earthquake happens, and the ground starts to shake the joints, the pipe can move with the ground and stay in service. 

Another pilot project was approximately two miles of trenchless renewal using an innovative CIPP technique (Aqua-Pipe by Sanexen Water Inc.). EBMUD is also testing out new PVC pipe and fitting combinations that can withstand quite a bit of ground movement as the result of seismic events. EBMUD is piloting these materials thanks to a relationship it has developed with Cornell University which destructively tests the materials. Katzev expects they will be using more of both techniques in the future.

In fact, Katzev says EBMUD has quite a few pilot projects going on throughout the system and has a group entirely focused on metrics analysis and performance indicators to evaluate the success of each project. Some of those indicators include cost, production and safety.

Networking with other utilities

EBMUD is a leader in pipeline replacement and innovation in the US. Through collaboration with environmental, engineering, construction and maintenance departments, it’s solving the pipeline problems in an efficient, sustainable and methodical way. However, EBMUD isn’t keeping all that knowledge to itself. Katzev says he’s been establishing relationships and meeting with other utilities locally and across the country to share what is working and what isn’t.

Some of the pipes in EBMUD’s system are over a hundred years old, and with 800 to 1,000 main breaks a year, it’s easy to understand why all this effort is going towards the replacement.  

"As EBMUD approaches 100 years of service, we’re in an era of replacement and renewal throughout our distribution system,” says Tracie Morales-Noisy, public information representative at EBMUD.  

That replacement and renewal means EBMUD had to raise rates for its customers and disrupt neighborhoods with construction. Morales-Noisy says they’re using the local media, customer newsletters and social media to explain to customers how their rate dollars are being invested, and and share the importance of a reliable water system, not just for today, but for 100 years from now. 

"We’re sharing details about our work — everything from planning and design to construction and maintenance," says Katzev. "We're showing customers we are really sharpening our pencils and we're looking for efficiencies." 

Morales-Noisy agrees. "That's why we're so strategic about everything from material selection to working with academic institutions. We know that ratepayer dollars make these improvements possible, and we want to ensure that we're safe, effective, efficient, and we're getting it done right."


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