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Water Distribution

WATER DISTRIBUTION The earliest water supplies in Great Britain were generally distributed at low pressure by wooden pipes or stone or brick conduits. For special purposes the Romans introduced cast-lead pipes, but they were regarded as luxuries, not as necessaries, and gave way to cheaper conduits made, as pump barrels had long been made, by boring out tree trunks, which are occasionally dug up in a good state of preservation. This use of tree-trunks as pipes is still common in the wooded mountain districts of Europe. Within the 19th century, however, cast iron became general in the case of large towns; but following the precedent inseparable from the use of weaker conduits, the water was still delivered under very low pressure, rarely more than sufficient to supply taps or tanks near the level of the ground, and generally for only a short period out of each twenty-four hours. On the introduction of the Waterworks Clauses Act 1847, an impetus was given to high-pressure supplies, and the same systems of distributing mains were frequently employed for the purpose; but with few exceptions the water continued to be supplied intermittently, and cisterns or tanks were necessary to store it for use during the periods of intermission. Thus it happened that pipes and joints intended for a low-pressure supply were subjected, not only to high pressure, but to the trying ordeal of suddenly varying pressures. As a rule such pipes were not renewed: the leakage was enormous, and the difficulty was met by the very inefficient method of reducing the period of supply still farther. But even in entirely new distributing systems the network is so extensive, and the number of joints so great, that the aggregate leakage is always considerable; the greatest loss being at the so-called " ferrules " connecting the mains with the house " communication " or " service " pipes, in the lead pipes, and in the household fittings. But a far greater evil than mere loss of water and inconvenience soon proved to be inseparable from intermittent supply. Imagine a hilly town with a high-pressure water supply, the water issuing at numerous points, sometimes only in exceedingly small veins, from the pipes into the sub-soil. In the ordinary course of intermittent supply or for the purpose of repairs, the water is cut off at some point in the main above the leakages; but this does not prevent the continuance of the discharge in the lower part of the town. In the upper part there is consequently a tendency to the formation of a vacuum, and some of the impure sub-soil water near the higher leakages is sucked into the mains, to be mixed with the supply when next turned on. We are indebted to the Local Government Board for having traced to such causes certain epidemics of typhoid, and there can be no manner of doubt that the evil has been very general. It is therefore of supreme importance that the pressure should be constantly maintained, and to that end, in the best-managed waterworks the supply is not now cut off even for the purpose of connecting house-service pipes, an apparatus being employed by which this is done under pressure. Constant pressure being granted, constant leakage is inevitable, and being constant it is not surprising that its total amount often exceeds the aggregate of the much greater, but shorter, draughts of water taken for various household purposes. There is therefore, even in the best cases, a wide field for the conservation and utilization of water hitherto entirely wasted.

Following upon the passing of the Waterworks Clauses Act 1847, a constant supply was attempted in many towns, with the result in some cases that, owing to the enormous loss arising from the prolongation of the period of leakage from a fraction of an hour to twenty-four hours, it was impossible to maintain the supply. Accordingly, in some places large sections of the mains and service pipes were entirely renewed, and the water consumers were put to great expense in changing their fittings to new and no doubt better types, though the old fittings were only in a fraction of the cases actually causing leakage. But whether or not such stringent methods were adopted, it was found necessary to organize a system of house-to-house visitation and constantly recurring inspection. In Manchester this was combined with a most careful examination, at a depot of the Corporation, of all fittings intended to be used. Searching tests were applied to these fittings, and only those which complied in every respect with the prescribed regulations were stamped and permitted to be fixed within the limits of the water supply. But this did not obviate the necessity for houseto-house inspection, and although the number of different points at which leakage occurred was still great, it was always small in relation to the number of houses which were necessarily entered by the inspector; moreover, when the best had been done that possibly could be done to suppress leakage due to domestic fittings, the leakage below ground in the mains, ferrules and service pipes still remained, and was often very great. It was clear, therefore, that in its very nature, house-to-house visitation was both wasteful and insufficient, and it remained for Liverpool to correct the difficulty by the application, hi 1873, of the " Differentiating waste water meter," which has since been extensively used for the same purpose in various countries. One such instrument was placed below the roadway upon each main supplying a population of generally between 1000 and 2000 persons.

Its action is based upon the following considerations: When water is passing through a main and supplying nothing but leakage the flow of that water is necessarily uniform, and any instrument which graphically represents that flow as a horizontal line conveys to the mind a full conception of the nature of the flow, and if by the position of that line between the bottom and the top of a diagram the quantity of water (in gallons per hour, for example) is recorded, we have a full statement, not only of the rate of flow, but of its nature. We know, in short, that the water is not being usefully employed. In the actual instrument, the paper diagram is mounted upon a drum caused by clockwork to revolve uniformly, and is ruled with vertical hour lines, and horizontal quantity lines representing gallons per hour. Thus, while nothing but leakage occurs the uniform horizontal line is continued. If now a tap is opened in any house connected with the main, the change of flow in the main will be represented by a vertical change of position of the horizontal line, and when the tap is turned off the pencil will resume its original vertical position, but the paper will have moved like the hands of a clock over the interval during which the tap was left open. If, on the other hand, water is suddenly drawn off from a cistern supplied through a ball-cock, the flow through the ball-cock will be recorded, and will be represented by a sudden rise to a maximum, followed by a gradual decrease as the ball rises and the cistern fills; the result being a curve having its asymptote in the original horizontal line. Now, all the uses of water, of whatever kind they may be, produce some such irregular diagrams as these, which can never be confused with the uniform horizontal line of leakage, but are always superimposed upon it. It is this leakage line that the waterworks engineer uses to ascertain the truth as to the leakage and to assist him in its suppression. In well-equipped waterworks each house service pipe is controlled by a stop-cock accessible from the footpath to the officials of the water authority, and the process of waste detection by this method depends upon the manipulation of such stop-cocks in conjunction with the differentiating meter. As an example of one mode of applying the system, suppose that a night inspector begins work at 1 1.30 p.m. in a certain district of 2000 persons, the meter of which records at the time a uniform flow of 2000 gallons an hour, showing the not uncommon rate of leakage of 24 gallons per head per day. The inspector proceeds along the footpath from house to house, and outside each house he closes the stop-cock, recording opposite the number of each house the exact time of each such operation. Having arrived at the end of the district he retraces his steps, reopens the whole of the stop-cocks, removes the meter diagram, takes it to the night complaint office, and enters in the " night inspection book " the records he has made. The next morning the diagram and the " night inspection book " are in the hands of the day inspector, who compares them. He finds, for example, from the diagram that the initial leakage of 2000 gallons an hour has in the course of a 4J hours' night inspection fallen to 400 gallons an hour, and that the 1600 gallons an hour is accounted for by fifteen distinct drops of different amounts and at different times. Each of these drops is located by the time and place records in the book and the time records on the diagram as belonging to a particular service pipe; so that out of possibly 300 premises the bulk of the Ir.ikage has been localized in or just outside fifteen. To each of thi-se premises he goes with the knowledge that a portion of the total leakage of 2000 gallons an hour is almost certainly there, and that it must be found, which is a very different thing from visiting three or four hundred houses, in not one of which he has any particular reason to expect to find leakage. Even when he enters a house with previous knowledge that there is leakage, its discovery may be difficult. It is often hidden, sometimes underground, and may only be brought to light by excavation. In these cases, without some such system of localization, the leakage might go on for years or for ever. There are many and obvious variations of the system. That described requires a diagram revolving once in a few hours, otherwise the time scale will be too close ; but the ordinary diagram revolving once in 24 hours is often used quite effectively in night inspections by only closing those stop-cocks which are actually passing water. This method was also first introduced in Liverpool. The night inspector carries with him a stethoscope, often consisting merely of his steel turning-rod, with which he sounds the whole of the outside stop-cocks, but only closes those through which the sound of water is heard. An experienced man, or even a boy, if selected as possessing the necessary faculty (which is sometimes very strongly marked), can detect the smallest dribble when the stopcock is so far closed as to restrict the orifice. Similar examinations by means of the stop- valves on the mains are also made, and it often happens that the residual leakage (400 gallons an hour in the last case) recorded on the diagram, but not shut off by the house stopcocks, is mentioned by the inspector as an " outside waste," and localized as having been heard at a stop-cock and traced by sounding the pavement to a particular position under a particular street. All leakages found on private property are duly notified to the water tenant in the usual way, and subsequent examinations are made to ascertain if such notices have been attended to. If this work is properly organized, nearly the whole of the leakage so detected is suppressed within a month A record of the constantly fluctuating so-called " night readings " in a large town is most interesting and instructive. If, for example, in the case of a hundred such districts we watch the result of leaving them alone, a gradual growth of leakage common to most of the districts, but not to all, is observed, while here and there a sudden increase occurs, often doubling or trebling the total supply to the district. Upon the original installation of the system in any town, the rate of leakage and consequent total supply to the different districts is found [to vary greatly, and in some districts it is usually many times as great per head as in others. An obvious and fruitful extension of the method is to employ the inspectors only in those districts which, for the time being, promise the most useful results.

In many European cities the supply of water, even for domestic purposes, is given through ordinary water meters, and paid for, according to the meter record, much in the same manner as a supply of gas or electricity. By the adoption of this method great reductions in the quantity of water used and wasted are in some cases effected, and the water tenant pays for the leakage or waste he permits to take place, as well as for the water he uses. The system, however, does not assist in the detection of the leakage which inevitably occurs between the reservoir and the consumer's meter; thus the whole of the mains, joints and ferrules connecting the service pipes with the mains, and the greater parts of the service pipes, are still exposed to leakage without any compensating return to the water authority. But the worst evil of the system, and one which must always prevent its introduction into the United Kingdom, is the circumstance that it treats water as an article of commerce, to be paid for according to the quantity taken. In the organization of the best municipal water undertakings in the United Kingdom the free use of water is encouraged, and it is only the leakage or occasional improper employment of the water that the water authority seeks, and that successfully, to suppress. The objection to the insanitary effect of the meter-payment system has, in some places, been sought to be removed by providing a fixed quantity of water, assumed to be sufficient, as the supply for a fixed minimum payment, and by using the meter records simply for the purpose of determining what additional payment, if any, becomes due from the water tenant. Clearly, if the excesses are frequent, the limit must be too low; if infrequent, all the physical and administrative complication involved in the system is employed to very little purpose.

The question of the distribution of water, rightly considered, resolves itself into a question of delivering water to the water tenant, without leakage on the way, and of securing that the fittings employed by the water tenant shall be such as to afford an ample and ready supply at all times of the day and night without leakage and without any unnecessary facilities for waste. If these conditions are complied with, it is probable that the total rate of supply will not exceed, even if it reaches, the rate necessary in any system, not being an oppressive and insanitary system, by which the water is paid for according to the quantity used. (G. F. D.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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