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Baggy pipes may be the green solution to water-main replacement.

The City of Evanston has used Cured-in-Place Piping (CIPP) technology to replace many of its sewer pipes. Now, a similar technology – creating a solid but flexible resin lining for century-old water pipes – is being piloted on a section of Washington Street between Dewey and Dodge avenues. 

With the CIPP procedure, the existing street water-pipe, or main, is cleaned of tuberculation, or oxidization build-up, said Shaun McKaigue, CEO of FER-PAL, the company hired by the City for the pilot project.

A laser camera is pulled through the pipe to “create a virtual image or map of the pipe to get the best fit,” said Mr. McKaigue. The first step in the process is to cork up the water supply to each building, using a robot moving through the pipe.

The resin liner, which looks like a long white bag, is pulled through the pipe section. Water is then flushed through – cold water first, to inflate the lining and set it snug against the old main, then hot water to cure the bag into a solid but flexible pipe, Mr. McKaigue said.

Then, he said, “Once the pipe is in place, we put a camera through to inspect it and a robot to drill out the cork and open the [individual water] service.”

The work is termed “trenchless:” Crews have access to the water main though pits dug every few hundred feet. This allows them to clean and cut the pipe sections, fit the liner and cure it in place.

Kristin Rehg, a utilities management analyst for the City and the City’s project manager for the pilot project, said, “The up-front work is more labor-intensive” than the actual replacement work.

FER-PAL says its process “reduces greenhouse gases by 90% and reduces project expenses by 30%. It also limits disruptions to surrounding neighborhoods and environments” and saves trees from being damaged or cut down, the company says.

One way this process is different from the one used in replacing sewer mains, Mr. McKaigue said, is that the new water pipes are composed of a “food-grade resin – no styrene is used. The resin is NSF61 certified.” He also said the new resin pipes should last about 100 years, even if the original pipe is damaged.

Governor Pat Quinn invited FER-PAL, based in Toronto, Canada, to open a branch in Illinois after he heard a presentation by the company in Chicago a few years ago. Later, said FER-PAL, Gov. Quinn visited Toronto, “solidified the relationship … and convinced the firm to locate its U.S. headquarters in Elgin.”

Lisa Bonnett, director of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, was one of the state officials who attended a video demonstration of the Evanston project, staged by FER-PAL on July 23 at the Washington Street construction site. 

“This type of technology is really important for communities who are losing their water [through broken pipes]. We are really looking at the importance of water,” Ms. Bonnet said.

The City is funding this $150,000 pilot through the Water Fund, rather than taking advantage of low-interest IEPA loans. 

“Water main replacement/rehabilitation is typically not funded with IEPA loans because the loan planning and application process typically doesn’t align with our planning and funding timelines for the annual water main program,” said Ms. Rehg.

“The City typically utilizes IEPA loans to fund projects with longer and/or more flexible planning horizons, such as water plant improvements and large-diameter sewer rehabilitation projects,” Ms. Rehg added.

Through the State’s Clean Water Initiative, about $2 billion is available to communities for projects such as this one, Ms. Bonnet said. These IEPA loans have an interest rate of about 2%.

Adam Pollet, director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said this type of project “is important from both the environmental side and the cost-saving side. … What FER-PAL is doing, what the community
is doing and what we are doing for water is absolutely important,” he said.

Mr. Pollet added that Gov. Quinn is fond of the phrase often attributed to Mark Twain: “Whiskey is for drinking; water is for fighting over.”

The expected completion date for the project is Aug. 11, weather permitting.