frost free hydrant
Cold Weather Water System Protection Options

During the week of February 15, 2021, Texas experienced a rare winter storm that brought several inches of snow and single-digit temperatures to a region not accustomed to severe cold and freezing conditions. Generally, water infrastructure in Texas is not designed for extreme winter conditions. Water systems across the state faced many challenges during this rare winter storm, including pipe failures, loss of power at facilities, the inability to deliver water to customers, and low system pressure, which caused boil water notices. Consequently, many Texans were without water due to a lack of water system winterizing efforts. Though winter storms of this magnitude happen infrequently, the recent experience in Texas serves as a case study on the importance of long-term system planning to help mitigate risk.

Ways to Protect Water Systems

Taking steps to protect water systems from damage associated with cold weather can save utility companies substantial money. More importantly, preparing water systems for a spectrum of weather events keeps the system operating to meet customers’ needs. Below are practical steps that may be taken to better protect systems from the effects of cold weather.

  1. Backup Generators – Backup generators can keep critical equipment running during power losses. While the upfront cost can be expensive and regular maintenance is required, maintaining a backup power supply can keep water and wastewater systems operating in the event of power outages.

  2. Insulation Board – Installing insulation board in a water system can be beneficial in areas where temperatures have the potential to fall below freezing because it protects pipe installed above the frost line. Insulation board is engineered for the depth of frost and desired bury depth. Existing pipes can be retrofitted with insulation board during maintenance activities or when pipes are being replaced or repaired in the system.

  3. Spray-on Insulation – Applying spray-on insulation is another form of protection that protects exposed pipes during a winter storm event. Spray-on insulation can also provide an extra layer to protect pipes in vaults. Spray-on insulation can be applied to existing pipes that are in good condition (note: it is not intended to correct pipe flaws).

  4. Lids – When lids are missing from valves and vaults, it exposes system assets to colder temperatures, potentially causing the assets to freeze and fail. Lids can be installed on valves and vaults to protect equipment from freezing and failing during a winter storm.

  5. Frost Free Hydrants – During winter storms, most fire hydrants freeze because water remains in the standpipe and freezes when temperatures drop. Frost free hydrants can be used in place of yard hydrants to protect from freezing during a storm event. Frost free hydrants do not freeze when exposed to freezing temperatures because the standpipe is designed to remain empty when the hydrant is not in use.

  6. Air Dryers – Air dryers can be installed at treatment facilities where air compressors are used. Air dryers reduce the amount of condensate in the air. Condensate can freeze and damage the water treatment facility equipment if not managed at an appropriate level.

Want to Learn More?

Contact us for additional information on ways to protect water systems in cold weather.

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Jason Vreeland, PE
Jason Vreeland, PE
Project Manager, New Braunfels, TX

Jason is a licensed professional engineer in the States of Wyoming and Texas with extensive experience in civil engineering design and planning. He specializes in water and wastewater collection and distribution, roadway design, capital improvements funding, and hydrologic and hydraulic design.
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