Virginia Tech Compiling Water Pipeline Infrastructure Database

Researchers from Virginia Tech's College of Engineering are mining pipeline data as part of a program called PIPEiD

Sunil Sinha
Sunil Sinha

When the world’s most precious resource faces some of the world’s most severe problems, people spring into action. That’s never been truer than in water preservation and reclamation.

One university entity is undertaking a five-year program to address water challenges related to infrastructure and failing pipelines. Sunil Sinha, a professor at Virginia Tech’s (VT) College of Engineering, will head up PIPEiD, the Pipeline Infrastructure Database. This national database will include data on the reliability of the nation’s aging water pipelines and become, as Sinha says, “a living knowledge database.”

The program, which initially launched last year, is finally underway after approval by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Defining the Scope

A survey by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that $384 billion in improvements are needed for the nation’s drinking water infrastructure. And with much of that water flowing through very old — some dating to the early 20th century — pipes, there is a concern for pipe leakage as well as contamination.

Sinha and his team will collect field performance data on the reliability for water pipelines made of various materials — including cast iron, ductile iron, reinforced concrete, steel, lead, plastic and thermoplastic — and also look at related soil conditions in various geographic regions. They will study and analyze the economics, cost-effectiveness and life-cycle costs associated with the various pipes. VTs ICTAS Center of Excellence in Sustainable Water Infrastructure Management will maintain and update the database.

“The scope is big,” says Sinha. “We have to look into all pipes. We are trying to reach out to at least one utility in each state. With the help of that utility, we would reach out to others in the state.”

The VT team has just begun sending letters to utilities, offering to set up a conference call to explain the project, its scope and its benefit to utilities of all sizes.

While they are asking utilities to sign a memo of understanding, Sinha says they are facing a bit of pushback. “Most of the utilities are worried about sharing their data. That’s the challenge we are facing.” However, Sinha notes, none of the identifying information for the utilities will be placed in the public domain. Only the generalized information, like number of breaks per year or certain pipe not performing well in a specific soil conditions, will be shared.

The database will allow users to conduct performance and life-cycle economic analyses of pipeline infrastructure systems. It will also allow utilities — no matter their size — to better understand water pipeline performance. “The needs are very different in a large utility than in a small utility,” says Sinha, adding that he hopes PIPEiD can help bridge the gap by providing detailed information and knowledge for better water pipeline asset management.

Utilities could log in to the secure server at Virginia Tech and have access to all their data and analysis regarding pipe material and condition, soil conditions and more. They cannot search other utilities’ databases, but they will have access to generalized cohort analysis at the regional and global levels. They can also learn from other utilities’ best practices related to water pipeline asset management.

Sinha told the VT News, “How a nation operates, retrofits and expands its pipeline infrastructure networks will help determine the quality of life for future generations and that nation’s competitiveness in the global economy.”

Sinha says there is currently no centralized database for pipeline information, and while no database can meet the needs of every user, “there is scientific basis and strength in pursuing complementary efforts while evolving to a more integrated, centralized platform of capabilities where the whole is more than the sum of the parts.”

Building smarter water infrastructure systems  — and understanding the ones currently in operation — can only be enhanced by thorough information and knowledge. In addition to PIPEiD, Sinha notes that a related database called WaterID also provides essential information. WaterID, funded in 2009 by the U.S. EPA is more of a knowledge database, says Sinha, rather than a compilation of raw data like that included in PIPEiD.

PIPEiD will include information from a minimum of 500 utilities across the U.S. and 100 federal facilities managed by U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The database is currently live for participating utilities. Next year, Sinha says, they will start posting generalized information at


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