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August 24th, 2011

What Happens to Water Infrastructure in an Earthquake?

By Rich Bindell

While everyone was checking in on Twitter and Facebook to confirm whether or not we had actually experienced an earthquake — and not Congress breaking out into a big brawl — I was listening to the sounds of emergency vehicle sirens and wondering what kind of damage was sustained throughout the city. After pondering what might have happened to office buildings, monuments, our underground train system and the animals at the National Zoo, I started thinking about our water infrastructure. What would happen to our pipes in an earthquake? Does the water utility have to check the entire system? How do they keep track of this stuff?

Conveniently, a colleague shared an article the other day about a Virginia Tech professor who is doing just that — keeping track of our nation’s water infrastructure. Virginia Tech News reports that Sunil Sinha, an associate professor of of civil and environmental engineering and an expert on sustainable water infrastructure management systems, has been developing a database to keep track of information pertaining to the functionality of our water systems.

WATERiD is an information center or web portal designed for sharing all data associated with the management and upkeep of water infrastructure. Sinha and his graduate students have collected data from 87 water and wastewater utilities  and have even received funding from the EPA for a four-yea study.

It’s amazing that something like this didn’t already exist, but it’s quite a testament to the complicated and challenging task of improving our water systems. It’s also an example of the previously “fragmented” effort, as Sinha called it, by the approximately 40,000 utilities to share updated information.

It might take an earthquake for me to start thinking about water infrastructure, but at least we have a capable professor with a strategy on how to take a first step toward preparing it for the future.

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