New report explores effects of earthquakes on water utilities

September 2012, Vol. 67 No. 9
Image: Benis Arapovic.

In 2010–11, major earthquakes hit Chile, Japan and New Zealand, causing significant damage to water system infrastructure. In response to these events, the Water Research Foundation funded project #4408 under the Emerging Opportunities Program to investigate the potential implications of the earthquakes on U.S. water utilities.

The resulting Web-only report, Recent Earthquakes: Implications for U.S. Water Utilities, highlights the damage to water system infrastructure from the earthquakes as well as relevant information from other water systems in recent earthquakes, the response of the water agencies in repair and restoration of potable water service to customers, and the effectiveness of various earthquake-countermeasures that were previously implemented by these water agencies.

These three recent earthquakes showed that the bulk of the total earthquake damage to water systems, and the resulting water outages to customers, was due to failure of hundreds to thousands of smaller diameter distribution pipes in zones of infirm ground. The researchers recommend that water utilities install seismically-resistant pipes in these areas to prevent this problem from occurring in future earthquakes in the United States.

Based on the observations from the earthquakes, this report also provides guidance on possible cost-effective U.S. water system improvements to address the following:

  • Pipe replacement to address seismic weaknesses as well as pipe aging (leaks, corrosion, etc.)
  • Water tank upgrades for seismic weaknesses
  • Well-head seismic upgrades
  • Emergency Response preparedness and implementation (manpower, training, equipment, mapping, communication with the public)