Engineers Week Spotlight: Nathan Hampton’s Insights on Hydraulic Modeling

In honor of Engineers Week, we asked one of our very own engineers to share their experiences and insights on their work as an engineer. This article is written by Nathan Hampton, a Senior Engineer here at Charlotte Water. Nathan shares information about the critical work of virtually testing our pipes before they are installed in the ground.

Charlotte Water maintains over 8,000 miles of pipe – enough to travel to Alaska and back! With so much growth in Charlotte, that number is only going to increase. It’s no secret that the future is unpredictable, so how do we know when new water and wastewater pipes need to be installed or replaced? How do we know if the pipes will be the correct size to keep up with the city’s growth? That’s where our Charlotte Water Engineers come in. Engineers create a computer model to virtually “test out” the pipe before building the real thing! This testing ensures there will be enough capacity in the pipes now and years into the future.

Crew installing a 72-inch water pipe to serve south and western portion of Mecklenburg County.

Water and sewer models have been used by utilities ever since the computer was invented to apply flow calculations to water pipe networks and wastewater collection systems. These models predict when and where the system will run out of room for flow and where existing pipes can be replaced. The models predict and test for the normal day-to-day flow and for the worst-case scenarios when the pipe is really put to the test.

Of course, a model is only as good as the data that goes into it. Months of wastewater flow and level data, water pressure data, pipe roughness characteristics, hydrant flow testing data, pipe diameters, slopes, valve locations and positions, (and so much more!) must be collected and validated at the start of creating a system model. In cases where a system model already exists, the same data must be updated to best represent the current system and calibrate to rigorous modeling standards before being deemed worthy to use for analysis.

CLTWater Engineers reviewing the design of an upcoming project.

Utilities continuously invest in keeping healthy, ready-to-use models to aid in system analysis. Equally as important as the data that goes into the model are the engineers who use it. Model users must take care to base their modeling results on sound assumptions and quality data.

So the next time you think about the pipe in your neighborhood, you can also think about how it existed as a virtual pipe in a model before becoming the real thing. For more information about Charlotte Water’s water and wastewater system computer models, contact the Engineering Planning department by visiting CharlotteWater.org.

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