Water Supply Networks

This year we’d like to begin a conversation about water, the most essential substance for the maintenance of life on Earth. In upcoming posts, we’ll be presenting basic information on water options for home and garden use, filtration options, sustainability issues and environmental impact. The goal is to provide information on how all the specific topics fit together so you can make informed decisions about the choices we all make every day. For this post, we’d like to focus on urban water supply networks as they are currently designed and on some of the issues facing the delivery of reliable clean water supplies to ourselves and our children.

Water supply networks are designed and maintained by municipalities and are made up of several key components. Raw water is collected in lakes, rivers, and underground aquifers as part of the natural cycles. This water is transferred using pipes or aqueducts and pumps (where gravity is insufficient to move it) to water treatment facilities. The treatment must occur close to the point of delivery and is done in three steps: first, the clarification process removes dirt and other organic matter particles; second, the water is filtered and refined using sand, anthracite or activated carbon; and third, the water is disinfected with chlorine to kill bacteria, most viruses, and to maintain residual protection as the water moves through the supply network. The water is then stored in facilities that may include tanks, reservoirs, or towers and distributed from there to individual locations through a pipe network. The network designs tend to be modular for easier repairs and system failures.

Water shortages, the integrity of the remaining water supply, and increasing demand on current supplies as a result of human population growth are serious concerns worldwide. Municipal districts must also consider the cost of maintenance and repairs and the increasing cost of energy for pumping water through the systems at pressures suitable for both small-scale and large-scale uses. Water system designers and environmental scientists are beginning to talk about basic principles in water management and to consider redesigns of delivery systems to conserve remaining raw water supplies and recycle wastewater more effectively.  

Fore More Information

Prairie Rivers Network

Mahomet Aquifer Consortium

Illinois Department of Natural Resources

Illinois Environmental Protection Agency

University of Illinois Water Resources Center