What lies beneath

What lies beneath

Bayonne uses GIS to peer inside its sewers and finds out there's more good news than bad


Sewers are not usually at the top of most cities' agendas. But when there is an outbreak of Escherichia coli O157 H7, commonly known as E.coli, or if water service fails because of a collapsed line, suddenly the condition of a town's sewer and water pipes becomes a hot topic.

It's then that having the right information technology systems really pays off.

Call a plumber

John G. Armstrong, a supervising sewer and water engineer for T&M Associates Inc. of Middletown, N.J., said pipelines are important capital assets to communities.

'If a city has to replace its sewer or water lines, it can cost hundreds of millions of dollars,' he said.

Armstrong is helping design a geographic information system for Bayonne, N.J., a town that dates back to 1609.

Some of Bayonne's 64 miles of sewers are more than 100 years old. The town, located on a peninsula between Jersey City and New York's Staten Island, has 11 miles of brick sewers, 40 percent of which were built between 1900 and 1909. Bayonne also has several miles of cast iron, steel, concrete and clay pipelines. And the town of about 25,000 households has 100 miles of water lines.

'Most of the city's older pipelines are in amazingly good condition,' Armstrong said. 'They are in need of structural repairs but not full replacement.'

The best medicine

Armstrong said GIS is a good way to keep track of the city's pipeline assets.

Bayonne, N.J., is using a new video camera system to inspect sewer and water lines. The captured data will be integrated into the city's new GIS. The city is deciding on which software and add-ons to buy that will allow users to access maintenance reports, work orders and billing information in one system, said John Armstrong, supervising sewer and water engineer for contractor T&M Associates.
'With GIS tracking, a town can know when they need to do preventive maintenance before a pipeline has a failure,' he said. 'Many towns have their maps archived in libraries and office basements, but if there is a flood or some other disaster, the information is lost. It's expensive to get everything surveyed again, and nobody wants to spend that kind of money.

'With a GIS system, everything is easily recorded. Changes can be easily put into the system. GIS is the most cost-effective way to know what is going on with a city's pipelines.'

About 85 percent of American cities have paper maps of sewer and water lines, leaving about 15 percent with no mapping of pipelines, Armstrong said.

But only about 40 percent have invested in GIS.

'And not all of those are true GIS systems. They are just basic computer maps,' he said.

Bayonne's system will consist of several layers of information.

'We are still looking at different types of software and add-ons so the city can have maintenance reports, work orders and billing information all in the same system,' Armstrong said.

About 95 percent of the nation's pipelines are too small for effective manual inspection, Armstrong said.

Underground footage

Bayonne recently purchased a $143,000 video pipeline inspection system that captures images of the inside of sewers and water lines.

Once the city has developed its new GIS, the images will be integrated into the system.

The imaging system is comprised of a customized utility van equipped with a P494 pan and tilt camera, P400 Series tractor, P299 cable drum and P371 portable system from Pearpoint Inc. of Thousand Palms, Calif.

Steve Gallo, executive director of the Bayonne Municipal Utilities Authority, said the video system is the eyes and ears of the city's pipeline environment.

'It gives us the ability to see underground so that there is no guessing about what conditions are like,' Gallo said. 'We are able to see into the sewers to see if the problem is the result of tree roots or globs of grease. It gives us a full visual assessment of the pipes, and we don't have to resort to ripping up our roads to check out a situation. It saves us time and money.'

Joseph Aidukas, the municipal authority's water and sewer superintendent, said the imaging system helps the city resolve conflicts with residents.

'If someone says the problem is the city's fault and the city has to fix it, we can use the camera to investigate to see if it truly is a bad pipe or a bad lateral connection from the house,' Aidukas said. 'Then we can let the resident know if it's something they have to take care of or not.'


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