Water Quality and Fire Flow: A Twist on the Classical Elements

No matter how far science advances, everything seems to go back to the classical elements of nature—earth, water, air, and fire. And although all are necessary for life, the elements always battle it out like a game of rock-paper-scissors: fire burns earth, earth creates air, air forms water, and water douses fire.

For those in the water utility industry, there is a clear favorite among these elements. GAI Consultants’ Senior Engineering Manager Scott Richards, PE joins us as a guest blogger to discuss the classical elements—particularly water—and how they remain just as important today as ever before.

The Modern Day “Water Douses Fire” Battle: Drinking Water vs. Fire Protection

In today’s typical urban scenario, cities and counties have miles of underground pipeline that deliver potable drinking water while also supplying fire protection to hydrants and buildings. In the utility world, a balance must be achieved between water quality (i.e., drinking water) and system capacity (i.e., peak demand and fire protection). Satisfying this balance varies from no concern to significantly challenging, depending on the water utility system’s requirements such as raw water quality, treatment process, distribution network, planned growth, and fire flow.

Pipe Sizing: Water Quality vs. Fire Flow

When pipelines are sized based on peak scenarios and fire flow conditions, the pipe volume is increased, which requires a minimum level of use and turnover in order to maintain water quality. For transmission mains, meeting this requirement typically isn’t a challenge. However, in some distribution zones, fire demand is the peak driver, creating a case of water quality versus fire flow capacity. When pipelines are sized to provide sufficient fire flow, but daily demand is low, routine flushing is often required to maintain water quality in the distribution network.

Fire Code: Design Criteria

So is there room to improve the balance of water quality and supply? While many factors should be examined, the first is design criteria—especially the fire code. Fire codes are well-established criteria that consider an array of factors to maintain public safety. While most cases are practical, in some instances fire codes are excessive (e.g., parking garages, open pavilions, and other non-combustible structures are some items known to have raised questions within the code). Sometimes the code doesn’t appear to consider the entire situation, requiring interpretation or exception.

The two sides must be actively involved and work together to maintain water quality and provide life safety without incurring excess expenses.

Working Together: Water and Fire Professionals

Water professionals are typically not concerned with the details of a building’s fire flow requirements, often leaving it to the specific building’s design/fire code. Equally so, fire professionals are generally not concerned with maintaining day-to-day water quality in the pipelines. However, there is a clear relationship here—much like the classical elements—and the two sides must be actively involved and work together to maintain water quality and provide life safety without incurring excess expenses.

For more information on improving utility performance or other issues impacting public works departments, contact Scott at 407.423.8398. Also stop by GAI’s booth at the Florida Water Resources Conference in Kissimmee, FL on April 24 – 27 to chat with Scott and our other water resources professionals!

Scott RichardsSenior Engineering Manager Scott Richards has 13 years of experience in water and wastewater treatment systems, pump stations, and transmission/distribution systems design, in addition to hydraulic modeling, master planning, asset management, utility studies, bond reports, and equipment energy analysis.

For related information, check out the following blog post:

Water Supply and Wastewater Treatment—The Rural Utilities Scenario | October 27, 2016

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