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Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2008 / 04 

Researchers set the stage for a national database of water pipe infrastructure

April 8, 2008

A buried sewage pipe transports waste water from the treatment plant in Monterey, Va.
A buried sewage pipe transports waste water from the treatment plant in Monterey, Va.

A group of Virginia Tech faculty and researchers 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 National Science Foundation.

The project is a collaboration between 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 (http://www.cgit.vt.edu/), Thomas Dickerson, research associate, and Rahul Vemulapally, civil and environmental engineering graduate student from Warangal, India.

“Underground water pipes are the nation’s arteries” said Sinha. “Unfortunately, they are not in a very healthy state. About 40 pecent 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 very helpful to water utility companies and municipalities.

The Internet prototype application will be created based on underground water and sewage pipe information supplied by three of the 17 cities that are partnering with Sinha and the Center for Geospatial Information Technology. “We are currently receiving data in different formats from Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Seattle -- the three pilot cities,” said Dymond. “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. “Users will be able to pan and zoom or easily identify attributes such as pipe diameters, size, or current condition,” explained Dickerson.

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 on-going water infrastructure research at Virginia Tech is to improve the decision-making process as it applies to water pipe infrastructure asset management and renewal programs.

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. All participating utilities have limited access to this national water pipe infrastructure database.

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