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Looking for ‘hot spots’ — in all the right places

New analysis pinpoints water mains at risk, allowing crews to upgrade whole neighborhoods at once. 
A Denver Water crew installs a new 12-inch-diameter pipe as part of the 2015 pipe replacement program in a southeast Denver neighborhood.

When a water pipe breaks under the road, there’s no telling what it’s going to do. Some shoot geysers into the air large enough to make Old Faithful jealous. Others turn neighborhood streets into muddy rivers, and some barely send a trickle of water up through the cracks in the pavement.

But even if there isn’t major disruption when the pipe breaks, there will be when it’s time for the repairs. Work crews can’t fix a pipe buried eight feet underneath the street without creating some commotion, from traffic disruptions to noisy equipment and temporary water outages.

Knowing emergency repairs can be a headache — especially when they happen in front of your home — Denver Water is always looking for ways to improve the repair process.

Enter Peter Kraft. As Denver Water’s asset manager, his job is to track and examine infrastructure conditions and needs throughout the water distribution system. Kraft recently analyzed about 630 breaks in Denver Water’s service area since 2013, using locations, type of pipes, installation years and other data to identify areas that he calls “hot spots.”

The research led him to neighborhoods on the west end of Centennial that have experienced 18 breaks in two years, over a 12-mile span. That’s more than three times the number of breaks as the rest of Denver Water’s service area.

Sensing an opportunity, Kraft and Mike Mercier, supervisor for the crews who replace sections of pipe each year, devised a new scheme. Instead of only upgrading pieces of “bad” pipe speckled throughout the water distribution system, the pipe replacement team will concentrate its efforts on one area.

This map shows the locations of 18 breaks across 65,000 feet of pipe in west Centennial since 2013.

This new approached kicked off in March, and crews will replace about 60,000 feet of pipe throughout the targeted 12-mile zone east of South Broadway along Arapahoe Road over the next two years.

"Though we've mapped out additional work in this area, it will be more prudent for us to see how the first couple of years go and adapt, if needed," said Kraft. "As we learn from doing work in that area and also advance our analysis techniques, we may find there is a different 'hot spot' that boasts even higher value for us to concentrate on."

Even though the work is cumbersome, the crews are coordinating their efforts and communicating with residents before the disruptions occur.

Kraft said he hopes this new strategy will help reduce issues like one seen in early March, when a 12-inch-diameter pipe broke in an east Denver intersection — just feet from where a new piece of pipe was upgraded less than a year earlier.

“There is no exact science when trying to guess the condition of a pipe underneath the road,” he said. “But by identifying these hot spots across the system, we can concentrate our resources on larger areas so we don’t have to return to deal with a main break in a community where we recently worked.”

So while Denver Water trucks will be common sight over the next few years in west Centennial, the upgrade will rid the community of its “hot spot” moniker, leaving the geyser shows for vacations in Yellowstone National Park.