Ensuring Reliable Water Supply in the Face of Increasing Drought

Longer and more intense droughts are becoming much more frequent in many areas around the world. As groundwater aquifers dry up, communities are looking to increase their reliance on surface water to cope with the water scarcity. However, this approach comes with its challenges. Utilities need to consider drought-proofing their pump stations to address these challenges and ensure a reliable water supply during droughts. By learning from both water and electric power utilities that use surface water, effective strategies can be developed to enhance the resiliency of pump intakes.


Scaled physical model of pump station used to evaluate impacts of low water levels

Know Your Intake Specifications

Understanding the intake specifications is crucial for both existing and new pump stations. Existing pump stations need to assess how low water levels can go before compromising pump performance. By knowing these critical levels, proactive measures can be taken to prevent any adverse hydraulic conditions that may arise during drought conditions. Hydraulic Institute (HI) standards provide guidelines on pump intake design, including recommendations for critical dimensions to minimize the likelihood of surface vortices. Net positive suction head required and net positive suction head available must also be considered.

Utilizing Physical Hydraulic Modeling

Scale physical hydraulic modeling, sometimes coupled with three-dimensional computational fluid dynamics (CFD) modeling, can be an invaluable tool for assessing flow patterns and vortex formation in pump stations. These models help identify potential problems and determine the effectiveness of modifications to improve pump station performance during low water levels.


Air-drawing free surface vortex as observed in the scaled physical model


Horizontal grating to eliminate adverse free surface vortex
tested using physical model study.

Listening for Warning Signs

Operators should be vigilant in monitoring potential warning signs of low water levels causing adverse conditions in the pump station. Cavitation and air-drawing vortices are two serious issues that may occur when submergence requirements are not met. Identifying these warning signs can help operators take timely action to prevent damage to the pump components.

Drought-proofing pump stations is crucial for maintaining a reliable water supply during periods of water scarcity. By implementing the strategies discussed above, utilities can enhance the resilience of their pump stations, ensuring critical infrastructure remains operational even during challenging drought conditions. Proactive measures, such as knowing intake specifications, utilizing hydraulic modeling, and designing remedial measures, can help utilities navigate the increasing challenges posed by droughts and secure water supply for the communities they serve.

Reference: Hydraulic Institute Standards, American National Standard for Pump Intake Design, ANSI/HI 9.8-2012.

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