Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf recently announced the investment of $117 million for 25 drinking water, wastewater, and non-point source projects across 19 counties through the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST). The funds will be leveraged to strengthen the state’s clean water efforts through continued improvements to drinking and wastewater facilities, as well as line replacements to address legacy contaminants like lead and PFAS. The state’s water utility company, Pennsylvania American Water, has also planned its own yearly upgrades to improve its infrastructure of water and wastewater treatment and pipeline systems.
With water infrastructure efforts like many of those outlined in Governor Wolf’s announcement and Pennsylvania American Water’s yearly improvement plan, it’s important for crews to leverage safe and effective project methods. Hydrovac excavation is an incredibly valuable option for daylighting, fixing and/or replacing underground lines and even cleaning sewers and pipes. In light of Pennsylvania’s ongoing water infrastructure improvements, following are some fundamental insights into why the use of hydrovac excavation is beneficial for addressing such projects.
Hydrovac excavation is safe and compliant.
The overwhelming majority of water lines and sewer pipes are located underground. Of course, any time you’re working with lines and utilities beneath the soil, there’s risk involved. So when it comes to repairing or replacing subsurface water and sewer lines, it’s critical to consider the safety factor. After all, excavation is among the most hazardous construction operations, with the potential to seriously endanger the lives of work crews.
Hydrovac excavation—also referred to as hydro trenching or soft digging—is a process involving a high-pressure water source and high-powered suction machines to dig deep, precise underground holes, daylight below-surface utilities and remove associated debris. It is quickly becoming the preferred method of excavation for digging in high-risk areas that contain obstructions like water infrastructure, utility lines and cables.
Potholing and daylighting give work crews for water infrastructure projects a very clear line of sight to the precise location of underground obstructions that could pose safety hazards. Digging and daylighting methods that rely on hydrovac excavation are less likely than sharp, cumbersome excavation machinery to pierce underground utilities. This approach enables workers to dig safely and incur the least amount of damage or disruption to buried infrastructure.
The equipment employed for hydrovac excavation is immensely more advanced than traditional options, which equates to safer projects requiring less manual labor and overall risk of injury or death.
There are also federal, state and local regulations governing the protection of underground lines from damages caused by excavation work. Current U.S. laws, for example, prohibit the use of mechanical means to dig within 18 inches of buried cable and pipe. Hydro excavation supports compliance with these types of regulations to ensure that crews are taking appropriate steps to safely excavate and protect underground utilities.
Hydrovac excavation is versatile and flexible.
Not every location for water infrastructure projects involves the same environmental conditions or work site requirements, which can make the process difficult if you’re relying solely on excavation methods, tools or machinery that are limited in nature.
For projects that involve lower-temperature, more compact or tougher soil conditions, for example, you need an approach that matches these unique needs. Hydro excavation is highly versatile in this way. If you’re dealing with ground materials like frozen soil, clay or rocky earth, the heated, high-pressure water is an ideal option for breaking up the elements. For this reason, hydrovac is often applied in colder climates and during winter seasons in certain locations. Plus, the deeper you have to dig, the greater the probability of reaching colder, harder and wetter subsurfaces, which can render traditional methods, or even air excavation, ineffective. These attributes make hydro excavation a more versatile tactic.
There’s also the challenge of excavating for water infrastructure projects in areas that are confined or congested. Hydrovac equipment allows for easier access in these cases. In fact, the water lance and vacuum hose are the only pieces needed directly at the work location, which means the trucks and tanks can be positioned at a distance. If the project involves narrow access roads, unstable soil conditions, low overhead clearances or similar obstructions and challenges, hydrovac excavation is a major advantage.
Finally, hydro excavation’s versatility extends to its usefulness in cleaning sewers and water pipes. The pressurized water, combined with the vacuum capacity for collecting waste material and debris, makes hydro excavation equipment extremely helpful for these efforts. Hydrovac trucks support the cleaning process while minimizing potential damage to lines and infrastructure.
Hydrovac excavation is efficient and clean.
Traditional excavation tools like manual shovels, backhoes and other blunt machinery pose substantial efficiency-related risks. Any inaccuracies or property damage that occur as a result of these methods can slow down a project immensely, not to mention the extra time spent backfilling after project completion when conventional digging approaches are employed. These processes often spur unnecessarily prolonged timelines or project delays, which can take water infrastructure efforts off track. Hydrovac excavation helps mitigate these hindrances by supporting a smoother, quicker process.
Additionally, hydrovac excavation enables water infrastructure crews to forgo the buildup of large piles of dirt and debris when digging is underway to repair or replace water and sewer lines. Since the materials are simultaneously vacuumed away into storage tanks as the pressurized water breaks them up, this method helps prevent soil deposits from significantly tarnishing streetscapes and clogging up storm water systems. The results include cleaner holes, less cluttered work sites and a minimal impact on the environment. Hydrovac equipment eliminates the need to employ tools that could destroy the surrounding ecology and allows for a backfilling process that helps keep the area intact.
With the advantages of hydrovac excavation in so many construction and utility applications, it’s no wonder this method has become a popular option. Its application to water infrastructure improvements is unsurprising, given the many evident safety, versatility and efficiency benefits. As counties throughout Pennsylvania and other states continue to strengthen their water and sewer infrastructure, hydrovac excavation will continue to serve as an ideal solution for many of the digging efforts involved in these projects.
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