Preparing for “the Big One” – Protecting the Nation’s Water Infrastructure

The long holiday weekend was filled with news about seismic activity in California and Nevada. An original jolt on Thursday was followed by thousands of aftershocks and an even stronger 7.1 quake on Friday, and tremblers are expected to continue for days.

Fortunately, so far, there have been no fatalities and only minor injuries; however, the area’s infrastructure has not fared as well, with estimated damages already exceeding $100 million. Radiating out from the epicenter of the quakes, some buildings and homes sustained major foundation damage, while others were destroyed by fires caused by gas leaks. The loss has been compounded in these areas by the interruption of power and water services.

While governments, utilities and residents in these areas remain in response mode, elsewhere others are asking: What can be done to minimize potential losses from an earthquake?

One solution is earthquake-resistant water infrastructure. AMERICAN introduced its Earthquake Joint System in 2015. In 2016, a study by Cornell found the system can withstand ground ruptures in excess of those experienced during some of the world’s most catastrophic earthquakes.

The system, for use with AMERICAN ductile iron pipe, valves and hydrants, was tested at the Geotechnical Lifelines Large-Scale Testing Facility, a research facility of Cornell University’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering in Ithaca, New York. Test results cite AMERICAN’s system was able to axially extend at least 5.4 inches per joint, enough to resist more than 99 percent of earthquake-induced ground strains measured following four major earthquakes during the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence in Christchurch, New Zealand.

To put this into perspective, according to the report, the levels of earthquake-induced ground deformation measured in Christchurch exceed those measured in the 1989 Loma Preita, California, and 1994 Northridge, California, earthquakes, and are comparable to those documented following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

“Caused by failed gas and electrical lines, fires typically follow seismic events. Unfortunately, the water lines that support the fire protection systems have typically failed also,” said Derek Scott, marketing and technical manager with AMERICAN Flow Control, the valve and hydrant division of AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe Company. “Water is the first defense against fires. AMERICAN’s Earthquake Joint System is a key component to keeping the hydrant lead intact and therefore helping to ensure firefighters have the water they need to fight fires following an earthquake.”

Water is also essential for sustaining life. “We can exist without power for days, and many have done so, but when our supply of clean water is interrupted, we must restore it soon,” said Maury Gaston, marketing services manager for AMERICAN’s Ductile Iron Pipe Division and author of “Earthquake Resistant Ductile Iron Pipe, Valve, and Hydrant System,” published in Pipelines 2016: Out of Sight, Out of Mind, Not Out of Risk.

This fast motion video that was taken during the Cornell University study shows the disruption of the ground’s surface under the simulated conditions of an earthquake. AMERICAN’s Earthquake Joint System is buried underneath. A second video shows the test crew unearthing AMERICAN’s Earthquake Joint System to find it passed the test, withstanding the ground forces of the simulated earthquake.

A video animation of AMERICAN’s Earthquake Joint System is available on AMERICAN’s website, as well as technical information about the Earthquake Joint System and Earthquake Joint Hydrant Base.

AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe Company was founded in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1905. AMERICAN manufactures ductile iron pipe, spiral-welded steel pipe, fire hydrants and valves for the waterworks industry and high-frequency-welded steel pipe for the oil and natural gas industries. AMERICAN’s diversified product line also includes static castings and high-performance fire pumps.