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Chapter 11 1

Chapter 11. Gravity Fed Water Supply


11.1 Fluid Mechanics and Pipe Networks

11.1.1 Quantity of Flow in a Pipe

As water flows in a pipe, a certain volume of water passes through per unit time. This is
referred to as the flow rate or discharge, and is in units of volume per time (e.g., L/sec, m3/sec,
or ft3/sec). For a given flow rate, if the pipe has a small diameter, then the water has a high
velocity, and conversely, if the pipe is large, then the velocity is low. This can be quantified by
Equation 11-1, which is referred to as the continuity equation:

Q = V×A (11-1)

where Q is the volumetric flow rate (length cubed/time), V is the velocity (length/time), and A is
the cross-sectional inside area of the pipe (length squared).

11.1.2 Pressure (or Head) at Various Locations along the Pipe

A pipe will carry its maximum discharge as long as the pressure anywhere in the pipe
does not fall below atmospheric pressure. If the pressure does go below zero, then a siphon will
be established. This is a negative pressure in the pipe that can result in contamination being
drawn into the pipe if a crack or hole develops. Negative (or even low) pressures are therefore

Contributors: Matthew A. Niskanen, Nathan Reents, John Simpson, Stephen Good
Chapter 11 2

to be avoided. For this reason, it is important to be able to determine the pressure at all locations
in the pipe network.

Assuming no change in elevation of a pipe, pressure diminishes in the pipe as water flows
downstream. This pressure loss (also called head loss) is due to friction with the pipe walls and
also to the swirling flow patterns found at the entrance to pipes, valves, pipe bends, and where
the flow exits the pipe.

The pressure (or head) loss due to friction can be determined as follows, assuming fully
turbulent flow:

LQ 2
hL = 16 f (11-2)
2 gπ 2 D 5

In Equation 11-2, hL is the frictional head loss (length), f is a friction factor, L is pipe length
(length), Q is flow rate in pipe (length cubed/time), g is the gravitational constant (length per
time squared), π equals 3.1416, and D is the pipe diameter (length). Friction factors can be
determined for different relative roughness and pipe diameters as provided in Tables 11-1 and

In addition to losing energy due to friction with the pipe walls, losses occur in any kind of
pipe fitting due to swirling flow patterns. These are called minor losses and can be quantified as
hL (min or ) = 16 K (11-3)
2 gπ 2 D 4

where K is a function of pipe geometry and type of fitting. Values of K can be found from Table
Chapter 11 3

11.1.3 The Energy Equation

Using Equations 11-1 to 11-3 and Tables 11-1 to 11-3, it is possible to calculate the
amount of energy (or pressure) that is present at any location along any of the pipes in a water
distribution system. Pressure is sometimes conveniently expressed in terms of head, which is
the pressure divided by the specific weight of water, γ. The pressure at any point in a pipe can be
thought of as how far the water would rise if a vertical tube was connected to the pipe at that
point. The Energy Equation is used for this purpose and is written as follows:

Term (1) Term (3)

p1 8Q p2 8Q22
+ 1
+ z1 + H p = + + z 2 + ∑ hL (11-4)
γ gπ 2 D14 γ gπ 2 D24

Term (2)
Term (4)
In Equation 11-4, p is pressure (force/length squared), γ is the specific weight of water
(force/length cubed), Q is the flow rate (length cubed/time), g is the gravitational constant
(length per time squared), D is the pipe diameter (length), z is the height above some reference
elevation (length), Hp is the pressure head supplied by a pump (length), and ΣhL is the total head
loss (length). In SI units, g is equal to 9.81 m/s2, and in English units, 32.2 ft/s2. The specific
weight of water is a function of temperature. At 10oC (50oF) the specific weight of water is
9.804 kN/m3 (62.41 lb/ft3).

The subscript 1 in Equation 11-4 denotes an upstream point in the pipe, and the subscript
2 refers to a downstream point. Term (1) in Equation 11-4 is called the pressure head, Term (2)
the velocity head, and Term (3) the elevation head. Term (4) is the head loss term. The Energy
Equation can be solved for D and is used to size pipes, as illustrated later in Example 11-1.

11.1.4 Use of the Hydraulic Grade Line

The hydraulic grade line (HGL) is a plot of z + p/γ (i.e, the elevation head plus the
pressure head). This is Terms (3) and (1) in the Energy Equation (Equation 11-4). The ground
Chapter 11 4

elevation is first plotted, and then a line of p/γ is plotted above that. Figure 11-1 shows a HGL in
relation to the topography for the situation that will be examined in Example 11-1.

An easier and more intuitive method of plotting the HGL is to start at the upstream water
surface (i.e., at the source) and then subtract head loss as you go downstream. There are minor
losses in the inlet to the pipe at the source (term “a” in Figure 11-1), then friction losses along the
pipe. When pipes are joined, the head at the downstream end of the upper pipe is the head
available at the upstream end of the lower pipe. This process can be continued along the entire
pipeline. The slope of the HGL will be steeper as D is decreased or Q is increased, since both
situations will result in higher velocity and therefore higher head loss, as can be seen in Equation

Using the Energy Equation (11-4) it is possible to plot the head at all points along the
pipe, thereby allowing any points of excessively high or low head to be detected for later
correction. (When determining whether the head is too high or too low, it is the pressure head
that is of concern. Visually, this is the elevation difference between the hydraulic grade line and
the ground surface.) As stated above, low pressure regions may not be able to provide the
needed discharge, and high pressures can burst the pipe. This is illustrated later in Example 11-

Each type of pipe can withstand a different amount of pressure (or head). This maximum
allowable pressure for a certain type of pipe can be found from the pipe manufacturer as is
provided in Table 11-4. If you cannot find this information, then an approximate value to use is
150 ft of head for PVC pipe and 600 ft for galvanized iron pipe. These are low estimates.
Actual values depend on the specific material, the wall thickness, and operating temperature.

11.2 Components of a Gravity Fed Water Supply System

A gravity fed water system consists of many components as described in detail in this
section. The hydraulic design process is demonstrated later in Example 11-1.
Chapter 11 5

Box 14-1. Eight items to consider when determining whether a gravity flow water
project is feasible.
1. Water at the source should not appear turbid, have an odor, carry a lot of sediment, or be
contaminated with pathogens or agricultural chemicals.
2. The owner of the land where the source is located should be trustworthy, educated on
how their activities could influence the water source, and have provided written
3. For gravity systems, the community houses should be located at an elevation below the
4. The minimum flow of the source (during the dry season) should cover the needs of the
community else it must be supplemented with other sources of water.
5. If the source is located below the community, a pump system will be required and thus,
the community has to have access to power (human, renewable, or fossil fuel) to lift the
water. The availability of parts to repair a pumping device must also be considered.
6. There needs to be a suitable place for a storage tank located above the community.
7. There must be funds available from nearby organizations, government, and community
members to construct the system initially.
8. The members of the community should show interest and be willing to provide labor and
the funds to construct and maintain the system.

11.2.1 The Source

Gravity fed water supply systems typically begin by identifying an adequate and
permanent source of safe water in an area of higher elevation than the community. This water
could be surface water collected behind a dam or groundwater collected by means of a
springbox. Water at the source should not appear turbid, have an odor, carry a lot of sediment, or
be contaminated. If the flow of the source does not cover the needs of the community during the
dry season, it will need to be supplemented with other sources of water. The owner of the land
where the source is located should be trustworthy, understand how his or her activities could
influence the water source, and provide written permission for use of the source.
Chapter 11 6

Dams are used when the available water source is a stream or river. The advantage of
constructing a dam is that during the rainy season, the water will easily pass over the structure
and not damage it. The main disadvantage is that this water source is more susceptible to
contamination, and generally carries more sediment than the groundwater of a natural spring.
Dams can be built out of many materials, depending on availability in the region.

Sedimentation tanks (Figure 11-2) are often needed when using dammed surface water,
due particularly to the high turbidity of water during the rainy season. The tank is built in order
to slow the flow of the water, causing particles to settle out by gravity.

For the tank to work properly, a plumber must periodically open the clean out valve to
release sediment located in the bottom of the tank. Sediment in the conduction line can cause
obstructions and unnecessary wear along the inner walls of the pipe. A sedimentation tank also
serves as a break pressure tank (discussed later), because the pressure is returned to atmospheric
pressure. However, they are typically placed near the source in order to remove sediments as
early as possible so as to minimize damage to pipes caused by suspended particles

11.2.2 The Conduction Line

A conduction line transmits water from the elevated source to a storage tank. The tank
then stores the water accumulated during periods of lower demand for use during periods of
larger demand. Pipe material is typically PVC or galvanized iron. Table 11-5 compares the
advantages and disadvantage of each, and an explanation of where they are typically used. As
can be seen from this table, the choice of pipe material affects the roughness of the pipe, and
therefore the head loss due to friction.

Water velocity through pipe is typically maintained between 0.5 to 3 m/s. If the velocity
is lower than 0.5 m/s, suspended solids in the water may settle and collect in the pipe. This can
increase head loss and lead to clogging in the pipe. Sediment clean out valves (wash outs) that
Chapter 11 7

are strategically placed at low points allow removal of accumulated sediment; however, a lapse
in maintenance will lead to problems. If a low velocity cannot be avoided, frequent line flushing
will have to take place, or a sedimentation tank may have to be installed at the beginning of the
pipeline or the springbox can be sized to provide for sedimentation. If the velocity is greater
than 3 m/s, the interior of the pipe can be seriously eroded leading to increased frictional losses
and a reduction in the design life. A larger pipe size will reduce the velocity and also lead to
lower frictional losses. Table 11-6 provides velocity limits for different pipe sizes.

Pipe sizing is not only based on survey data, but also peak flow from the water source. A
conduction line is typically designed to carry the maximum daily flow from the source to the
storage tank. The tank then acts to store the water carried during the periods of lower demand
for use during periods of larger demand. Pipe diameters can change going from one pipe
segment to another. Pipe sizes usually decrease as a pipeline progresses downstream from one
pipe segment when there is decreasing discharge required. The head loss in the contraction
fitting from a large to smaller diameter pipe should be included in calculations. Table 11-3
provided the coefficient to be used for contractions.

Pipe size can be calculated by hand if necessary (Reents 2002; Simpson 2003). Software
programs such as GoodWater (Good 2008) are also available to assist the design of gravity fed
water systems. GoodWater is further unique because it also incorporates principles of
sustainability. A copy can be obtained by contacting this book’s lead author. Commonly used
pipe size diameters are: ½, 1, 1.5, 2, 3, and 4 inches. Larger, more expensive pipes are rare in
rural water projects. GI pipe is usually sold in 6 m (20 ft) sections and PVC pipe is usually solid
in 19 ft sections. The actual pipe inner diameter is slightly different than the nominal size.

Box 14-2. Community understanding of pipe size.

You may observe that some individuals do not understand why the diameter of the pipe changes
as the distribution system gets closer to the community. These individuals may suggest for
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example to use 2-inch pipe on the entire system instead of a smaller size pipe. They may
initially look in disbelief when you explain the same or a larger pipe size will not be used for the
whole transmission line.
In this situation, the individual believes that the smaller 1.5-inch pipe was too small to
provide water for the entire community and the system would run dry. They may visually show
the difference in size of the diameters of the two pipes with their thumb and finger, and explain
how the larger 2-inch pipe will carry more water. In this case, the individual is thinking about
the amount of water the pipe could carry in a 2-D fashion, instead of thinking about the volume
each diameter carries. The importance of careful planning and integration into a community will
allow you to earn the trust and respect of community members, so you can then explain to them
the fundamentals of fluid mechanics and the design in their terms.

Example 11-1. Using the Energy Equation to solve for pipe size.

Suppose the discharge from a pipe by a group of users is 0.7 ft3/s. We want there to also
be at least a small amount of head available everywhere in the pipe, 10 ft, for example. This
allows for sufficient flow and takes care of possible errors (e.g., in the land survey). PVC is
readily available in this instance, so it is specified as the pipe material. Water enters the pipe
from an inlet tank in which the water surface is 5 ft above the ground level. (Because we are
designing the pipe that comes after the storage tank, we are designing the distribution line. The
same process would also be used for the conduction line.)

The task here is to choose a suitable pipe diameter and then plot the head along the pipe
to make sure that all points have sufficient pressure to allow the design flow rate (0.7 ft3/s) to
pass, while no points have a pressure high enough to cause the pipe to burst. The ground levels
are shown in Figure 11-1. There is a high point in the ground 200 ft downstream of the intake
(Point A), and the end of the pipe (Point B) is another 100 ft from the high point. There will be a
small amount of head loss at the entrance (indicated as “a” near the storage tank in Figure 11-1),
but that will be considered later.
Chapter 11 9

The allowable head loss due to friction in the pipe until Point A is calculated by taking
the water surface elevation at the source (120 ft above mean sea level) and subtracting the
ground elevation at Point A (90 ft) but then adding in the 10 ft of head assumed to be available as
a safety factor. This results in a head loss (hL) due to friction of 20 ft. Equation 11-2 is then
solved for D, using hL = 20 ft.

LQ 2 (200 ft )(0.7 ft 3 / s ) 2
D = 16 f
5 = 16(0.008)
5 = 0.25 ft = 3.0in
2 gπ 2 hL 2(32.2 ft / s 2 )π 2 (20 ft )

The idea here is to find a value of pipe diameter, D, that satisfies both Equation 11-3 and
Table 11-2. The value of f = 0.008 was guessed since we do not know D, which is required for
the ks/D ratio listed in Table 11-2. We will now check the value of f by using the value of D
(0.25 ft) that we got when using Equation 11-3.

ks 0.0001mm
= = 1.3x10−6
D (308.5mm / ft )(0.25 ft )

This value of ks/D is less than the lowest value (0.00001) in Table 11-2. In this case, the
value of f could be lowered, but we don’t know how much since it is below the range of data
used to make Table 11-2. Maintain the value of f = 0.008 to be conservative. A high value of f
results in more head loss, so if the water will flow with a higher head loss, then it will surely
flow if the real head loss is less than we calculated.

If this value of ks/D hadn’t matched, then we would have needed to use the value of D
obtained to get another value of the friction factor, f, from Table 11-2, calculate D again and
check if ks/D matches that of Table 11-2. This is continued until Table 11-2 and Equation 11-3
are both satisfied. It may take 3 or 4 iterations of this procedure to converge on an answer.

If the resulting diameter is available as commercial pipe, we can stop here. If it is not
commercially available, we should round up to the next largest commercially available pipe size.
Chapter 11 10

Let’s assume that 3-in. pipe is not available, and that the next largest size is 4 in. This
would lead to a head loss of:

LQ 2 (200 ft )(0.7 ft 3 / s ) 2
hL = 16 f = 16(0.008) = 5.0 ft
2 gπ 2 D 5 2(32.2 ft / s 2 )3.142 (0.33 ft )5

Rounding up to a 4-in diameter reduced the head loss due to friction from about 12 ft
down to 5 ft.

Now we can consider the head loss at the inlet calculated from Equation 11-3, with a
value of 0.5 for K from Table 11-3, assuming a square-edged entrance with r = 0.

( 0.7 ft / s)
3 2
hL ) ml = 16 K = 16(0.5) = 0.52 ft
2 gπ 2 D 4 2(32.2 ft / s 2 )3.142 ( 0.33 ft )

The minor head loss is thus 0.52 ft, which corresponds to “a” in Figure 11-2. The total
head loss is the summation of the frictional head loss and the minor head loss:

HL-total = 5.0 ft + 0.52 ft = 5.52 ft

Using the Energy Equation (11-4) with the water surface in the tank as the upstream
point, and Point A as the downstream point, we can simply subtract the total head loss, 5.52 ft,
from the water surface elevation. This yields a value of 120 ft – 5.52 ft = 114.48 ft. This value
is above the ground level at that point by a value of 114.48 ft – 90 ft = 24.48 ft, which is above
our minimum specified value of 10 ft, so the correct discharge can go through this pipe.

If this value were not above the minimum value, then we would have had to increase the
pipe diameter by one pipe size and check again. We would continue to increase the pipe size
until we found the smallest commercially available pipe that would leave at least 10 ft of head at
all points along the pipeline.
Chapter 11 11

To design the pipe size for the downstream section of pipe, we repeat the process, but
using a head of 114.48 ft as the upstream value. If 4-in diameter pipe is maintained all the way
until the downstream end of the pipe, the hydraulic grade line at the end of the pipe can be
calculated by subtracting the frictional head loss from the value of head at Point A. The
frictional head loss can be calculated as follows:

LQ 2 (100 ft )(0.7 ft 3 / s) 2
hL = 16 f = 16(0.008) = 2.5 ft
2 gπ 2 D 5 2(32.2 ft / s 2 )3.142 (0.33 ft )5

Therefore the value of the hydraulic grade line at the end of the pipe is 114.48 ft – 2.5 ft =
112 ft. Since the ground elevation here is 65 ft, that means the head is 112 ft – 65 ft = 47 ft.
This 47 ft of head is now the inlet value for any pipe(s) attached here that continue downstream
(not shown). Additional pipes can be calculated in the same manner, always using the outlet
value from the pipe upstream as the inlet value of the pipe being calculated.

The maximum pressure occurs at the location where the difference between the hydraulic
grade line and the ground elevations is the largest. This occurs at point B in Figure 11-2. 47 ft is
not more than the maximum allowable pressure for PVC (150 ft), so the pipe will not burst.

However, if the pressure is too high at any point in the pipe, you can decrease the pipe
diameter upstream to increase the amount of head loss, or you can put galvanized iron pipe in the
spots with excessively high pressure. An additional option is a break pressure tank, discussed in
Section 11.2.3. If a smaller diameter pipe or a break pressure tank is used, make sure you have
enough head to get the water back up any hill downstream of this point. If the head is greater
than 600 ft, the maximum allowable pressure for galvanized iron pipe, then you must decrease
the pipe diameter(s) upstream. If a large amount of pressure is needed to cross a valley and then
carry the water back up the other side, and no pipe is strong enough to withstand the pressure, the
pipe can be suspended across the valley.
Chapter 11 12

11.2.3 Break Pressure Tanks

Static head is the difference in elevation from the source to any point on the ground
profile. Static head must always be considered because excessive pressure in the pipe from
elevation head can rupture the pipe or pipe connections. Piping is rated by its ability to withstand
an internal pressure without breaking. This is a function of the type of pipe material and the
thickness of the pipe wall. Previously, Table 11-4 provided information on the pressure limits
of particular piping material.

Break pressure tanks are strategically placed along the pipeline to eliminate excessive
pressure that will rupture the pipe or cause failures at the joints. The function of a break pressure
tank is to allow the flow to discharge into the atmosphere, thereby reducing its hydrostatic
pressure to zero, and establishing a new static level. Figure 11-3 depicts a break pressure tank
and its components. In Figure 11-3, as the entry pipe turns vertically downward, there are holes
placed in its sides to help dissipate the pressure and protect the inside of the box from damage.
A storage tank will also function like a break pressure tank. A general rule of thumb is that static
head at any given point within the conduction line (with a good factor of safety) should not
exceed 100 meters of head. This means that a break pressure tank should be installed
approximately every 100 m change in elevation from the source yet still leave enough pressure to
flow to the storage tank.

There is no minimum required capacity for a break-pressure tank, as long as water is able
to drain from it as quickly as it is discharged. The dimensions of the tank are influenced more by
the size of the fittings (such as control valves, float valves) which must fit inside of it, and the
size of the pipe wrenches which must be able to be rotated inside as well (Jordan 2000). When
adding a break pressure tank, similarly to when reducing pipe size, it is important to check that
the head that will be lost is not needed farther downstream to bring the water back up to a
localized high point.

Figure 11-4 shows what happens to the HGL of a system when a break pressure tank is
added to the system and the frictional pipe loss plotted over the ground profile. Proper location
Chapter 11 13

of break-pressure tanks is an important part of a successful design. The ideal placement is a

location where the exiting flow will have an immediate drop in elevation to regain energy. In
general, the top of a hill is a good location for a break-pressure tank as long as the next high
point along the conduction line is at a lower elevation.

There is sometimes a float valve (similar to western-style toilet) located inside the break
pressure tank that helps regulate flow inside the tank. In this case, the float valve shuts off when
the break pressure tank is full (water is not being used downstream). However if the float value
does not shut off, water is lost in the overflow tube. Most float values have much lower pressure
head limits (around 60 m of head) then standard tubing materials, and if break pressure tanks are
to be installed, the final pressure at the tank entrance should be double checked. The other
option is that the break pressure tank will overflow when the water demand is not great which is
allowable when the water source provides more water than necessary. Placing rocks or
something hard where the water falls will disperse energy and avoid erosion at this spot. Float
valves break fairly often, therefore, it is important to minimize the number of break pressure
tanks and make sure the water committee has replacements and knows how to install them.

11.2.4 Clean Out Valves and Air Release Valves

Collection of sediment and air in the pipe are the two most common obstructions found in
water systems that result in partial and/or complete blockage of the pipeline. Figure 11-5 shows
a typical profile of a water supply system and proper placement of air release and sediment clean
out valves. Air relief valves are best installed at high spots along the conduction line marked as
B and D. Not all high points will require air relief valves however, and once the system is
completed, air valves can be installed starting from the source, working downward until air
blockages are not a problem. Sediment cleanout valves should be installed at any low spots
along the pipeline which are marked as A, C, and E. During construction it is important to
always ensure that sediment clean out valves are installed at the low points in the terrain and the
air release valves are installed in the low points of the terrain. This may require that a section of
pipe is cut.
Chapter 11 14

The minimum size for sediment clean-out valves is typically a 1-in gate valve. For
larger mainlines a relationship of D/3, where D is the inner diameter of the mainline, can be used
to calculate the size of the required valve.

The purpose of an air valve is to release this trapped air. Because air is less dense than
water, it sometimes is retained in the higher areas of the pipeline, and thus blocks the movement
of water at the design flow. The location of air valves is especially important where the hydraulic
grade line is close to the level of the terrain. Commercially-available air-release valves are
available that work by a spring attached to a ball that allows air to escape if it builds up to
enough pressure to push the ball away from the opening and seal itself again when the pressure
reduces. Blockages due to air typically occur after pipes have been emptied for cleaning or
service. Standard, non-automated valves can also be installed if the cost of automatic air release
valves is too high, or they are not available in the area. In this case the person or persons
servicing the pipeline opens all the air valves while walking up the pipeline to the area to be
cleaned. After the work is completed, these persons can return the same way, closing the air
valves manually once water has arrived at each location and all air has been forced out. These
valves are typically enclosed in a concrete box to provide easy access and prevent damage by
humans and animals.

Installing too many clean out and air release valves will not only increase the cost, but
also make the system more susceptible to leaks and vandalism during the operation of the
system. Financially, the engineer must review the cost impact of adding cleanouts and air relief
valves as they can become a very expensive portion of the system cost. The maintenance and
upkeep of these types of valves are very important to prolonging the operating life of the system.

11.2.5 The Storage Tank

Storage tank design is covered in a separate chapter. The tank should be located to allow
for at least 10 m of head at all points in the distribution network (some suggest this value can be
5-10 m of head). It is also preferable that it be located close to the community for easy
maintenance. Because storage tanks act as break pressure tanks, they should be placed at a
Chapter 11 15

location where the exiting flow will have an immediate drop in elevation in order to regain

11.2.6 Distribution Lines

Distribution networks consist of the pipe and accessories required to connect the storage
tank to the users. Similarly to the design of the conduction line, distribution pipe design should
follow the process described previously in Example 11.1 or use of software such as GoodWater.

Branched Networks

A branched system is one in which there are no loops in the network. In other words,
water can reach each tap stand by only one path. Many water systems in the developing world
are branched systems, except perhaps in large cities.

As previously mentioned, the flows required for any pipe in a branched network (not a
looped one) are determined by the user demand at the end of that pipe. The flow of any pipe
coming into a junction is the sum of all the flows going out of that junction. Figure 11-6
illustrates this point.

As discussed above, the hydraulic grade line of each pipe can be determined using the
value at the downstream end of the pipe just upstream of the pipe in question as the new
upstream head value. HGL calculations proceed from the source to the end of each branch line
once the pipe diameters have been selected.

Looped Systems

If there is a tap stand in a system that water can reach by more than one path, then the
system has one or more pipe loops. This provides the advantage of adding redundancy to the
design. If there is a blockage or break in a pipe, water can still go to the downstream taps
through an alternate path. It adds cost to the design, however, due to the need for more piping.
Chapter 11 16

It also makes it harder to calculate the flow and pressure at points throughout the system. For
analyzing looped networks, there are computer programs as well as the classical Hardy-Cross
Method that can be done by hand (although it takes a while) or spreadsheet (Crowe et al. 2001).

11.2.7 Tap Stands

Tap Stands

Water is distributed from the distribution line to a user via a tap stand. Tap stand design
is based on community needs, especially the type of container commonly used for collection.
Consideration should also be given to what activities (e.g., washing dishes, laundry) will take
place near the tap stand in addition to water collection.

Typically, ½” PVC piping is used to connect each tap stand to the distribution line.
Piping within the community is not buried as deep as in the main conduction line. It is usually
60 cm deep for normal terrain and 80 cm deep to cross roads. In areas of erosion, GI pipe may
be used to cross roads.

A water distribution system can be based on community tap stands, or separate tap stands
can be provided for each participating household. The collection and sanitary disposal of
greywater is a design consideration as well. Figure 11-7 shows the components of a typical tap
stand. Figure 11-8 depicts various types of tap stands, and Figure 11-9 shows the integration of
greater collection, drainage, and shutoff valves. Concrete skirts not only inhibit erosion at the tap
stand, but can allow a user to direct excess water to nearby gardens.

A larger PVC pipe (approximately 10 cm diameter) that is cut in half length wise and
held together with hose clamps or bailing wire can work as a mold for the taps shown in Figure
11-7 and the top illustration of Figure 11-8. For this particular design, the piping and fittings
that exit the top and bottom of the tap stand are placed inside the mold, which is filled with
concrete and then cured. Encasing the tap stand pipe in concrete protects it from large animals,
children, and carts.
Chapter 11 17

A minimum head of 10 m pressure is recommended at the tap to ensure the delivery of

sufficient flow from the tap. When determining the minimum head required at the tap, it is
important to consider the frictional losses at the elbows and gate valves shown in Figure 11-7.
Standard taps purchased at a hardware store can generally withstand approximately 60 m of head
before they are damaged. If the static head is over 60 m prior to the placement of community tap
stands, a break-pressure tank with a float valve or a break pressure valve can be installed (Reents


Valves are typically placed outside of each house, enabling the plumber to control access
to the system. The valves should be enclosed in a valve box which may be locked so that only
the plumber can adjust them. If the water fee is not paid, water supply can be terminated.
Lockable faucets can also be purchased. Valve boxes should be located on public property close
to the road for ease of access. Additional valves should be installed to isolate sections of the
water system for repairs. With strategically located valves, access to the system can be given
for part of the day to each section of the town. Valves should be closed slowly to prevent
damage from water hammer.

11.2.8 Other System Components

The components discussed in previous sections form the basic parts of a water system.
Other non-traditional items may also be included. In order to improve the quality of the water in
the system, other components should be considered. These components can add significant cost
and maintenance constraints to a system and their additions should be carefully considered.
Aeration units can be installed in the line to improve the taste and smell of water. These are
simple tanks where water enters from above and falls through the air to an outlet at the bottom of
the tank.
Chapter 11 18

An aeration unit will not remove pathogens. In this case, different filters may be installed
along the pipeline. A simple rock or sand filter can be installed at the intake if water is of poor
quality. These will require maintenance though and cannot be guaranteed to remove pathogens.
Slow sand filtration can also be used to improve water quality. These filters can require large
amounts of space and can also be complicated to install. Water may also be treated at the home
with point-of-use filtration systems.

To manage water in the network splitter-boxes can be installed. These boxes can be
much more cost effective then installation of valves and more precisely control the distribution
of water. They consist of a simple box where water enters, flows over a partition, and exits into
different tubes. These boxes are particularly important where water must be divided into specific
fractions, for example, when one community must receive exactly half or a quarter of the water
from a source. The partition divides the box into two halves, and the half where the water exits
may be sub-divided into as many sections as the designers requires. The placement of these sub-
sections corresponds exactly to the ratio of water which that subsection is to receive. For
instance if the user wants the water distributed into three pipes, one with 50% of the water, one
with 25% of the water, and one with 25% of the water, a Splitter-box with three sub-sections
should be installed (Figure 10-10). The partitions of the sub-sections are arranged so that water
flows over the main partition in the correct rations.

In addition to the standard tap stand, there are various other types of extraction points
which can be included in a water system. Locations such as schools, churches, and community
centers are locations where special needs may need to be addressed. Public bathing or showering
areas may also be a priority in the community. A specially designed area for washing clothes
that has multiple faucets can also be considered in communities that have a traditional washing
Chapter 11 19

11.3 Construction Tips

Typically, the community digs the trench and installs the pipeline. It should be buried
about one meter below ground, because it may cross agricultural fields which get plowed on a
regular basis or may be burned to clear brush. The erosion of soil due on hilly terrain can also
expose piping which has not been buried deeply enough. In addition, burying the conduction
line reduces illegal tapping for household or agricultural use. One-meter sticks can be cut and
provided for workers to measure consistent depth along the trench. Small marks can also be
notched on picks and shovels to identify trench depth.

PVC pipe is connected as described in Chapter 7. As discussed in that chapter, PVC

pipes are glued so that the bell end (i.e., the female end) is positioned against the flow of water to
prevent future leakage. Be careful not to accidentally introduce sediment into the pipes during
joining. Extreme care must be taken when connecting pipes of different materials, especially
PVC to galvanized iron. These areas are especially problematic, as the connection sleeve is
often very short. A longer section of PVC can be glued the night before into the adaptor so that
the connection is much stronger.

Experience suggests that 20-30 pieces of 6-m PVC pipe can be laid through rocky soil
during a normal work day with a work brigade of 15 persons. The count can increase to
approximately 40 pieces of pipe if the soil is sandy and absent of rocks. When installing sections
of galvanized iron piping it is important to install universal unions every 8 to 10 pieces of pipe.
Having an ax available to cut through roots and narrow shovels as well can reduce the time
required to dig a wide trench.

Box 11-3. Typical Water Project Construction Timeline.

Water supply projects are large endeavors requiring the coordination of laborers,
materials, weather, and other factors. The order in which a project is constructed can
Chapter 11 20

significantly affect its progress. Below is a suggested project plan and justification for its
1. First 1/3rd of Main Pipeline Starting with the conduction line is easier then
staring with a complicated intake structure, which
often necessitates hauling cement and other heavy
materials. Use this time to organize labor brigades
and work out any problems. Connect pipes to bring
water where people are working

2. Intake Structure(s) Interest in the project will be highest near the

beginning, take advantage of this time to work on
sections farthest from the community.

3. Finish Main Pipeline Once the conduction line is finished water can be
brought to the tank location. This will excite
community members and provide further

4. Storage Tank Working on the storage tank once the conduction

line has been completed allows water to be
available water to mix concrete and cement without
hauling water long distances.

5. Entire Distribution Network The distribution network will proceed rapidly as

community members are working near their homes
and can see daily progress.

6. All Tapstands It is important that all tap stands are connected at

the same time. Workers are liable to stop working
on the project once water arrives near their homes.
To be fair to all community members ensure that
all tap stands are installed over a short timeframe.

11.4 Operation, Maintenance, and Security

The operation and maintenance of a water supply system is vital to its long term
sustainability. The most important asset of a well-operated water supply system, aside from its
design, is the formation and management of a community water committee (see Chapter 3). This
group of elected individuals has the task of assuring the water system will last as long as
Chapter 11 21

possible. They collect fees to maintain the system, determine what to do if users do not pay their
fees, and arrange necessary system repairs and maintenance.

The second most important asset of operating and maintaining a gravity fed water supply
system is to have several trained plumbers who reside in the community. Training local
plumbers starts during the project’s conceptual design, and begins in earnest on the first day of
construction. During the duration of the construction, these individuals should learn how to
install and replace every element of the system. Additionally, they need to be trained: 1) to walk
the conduction line; 2) inspect the line for leaks; 3) release air from the system, if present; 4)
clean sediment valves; 4) inspect and clean an emptied storage tank once a year; 5) maintain
bleach in a system chlorinator, if required; and 6) understand how to purchase parts that need
replacement and/or repair. Compensation for these individuals is a decision made by the
community water committee, and can be monetary or in kind (e.g., rice, beans).

A final aspect of water supply system design is security. While designing a system,
provide secure boxes/hatches to access the valves, tanks, and other places where a system has
potential for tampering. The hatches on valve boxes and tanks, whether concrete or steel, can be
designed with a padlock for security. This also includes protecting vulnerable areas such as the
springbox or intake dam from animals.

Insert Table 11-7

Further Reading

American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) (1969). Design and construction of sanitary and
storm sewers, ASCE Press, New York, New York.

Annis, J. (2006). Assessing progress of community managed gravity flow water supply systems
using rapid rural appraisal in the Ikongo District, Madagascar. Master’s Report.
Chapter 11 22

Michigan Technological University, Houghton, Michigan.

<http://www.d80.mtu.edu/Resources.html> (January 14, 2008).

Crowe, C.T., Roberson, J.A., and Elger, D.F. (2001). Engineering fluid mechanics, 7th Ed. John
Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York, New York.

Good, S. (2008). Development of a decision support system for sustainable implementation of

rural gravity flow water systems, M.S. Thesis, Civil & Environmental Engineering,
Michigan Technological University. <http://www.d80.mtu.edu/Resources.html>
(January 14, 2008).

Jordan, Jr. T.D. (1980). A handbook of gravity-flow water systems, Intermediate Technology
Publications, London.

Menon, Shashi. 2005. Piping Calculations Manual. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Niskanen, M.A. (2003). The design, construction, and maintenance of a gravity-fed water system
in the Dominican Republic, M.S. Report, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Michigan
Technological University. <http://www.d80.mtu.edu/Resources.html> (January 14,

Purcell, Patrick. 2003. Design of Water Resource Systems. London, UK: Thomas Telford

Reents, N. (2002). Designing water supply systems in rural Honduras, M.S. Report, Civil &
Environmental Engineering, Michigan Technological University.
<http://www.d80.mtu.edu/Resources.html> (January 14, 2008).

Servicio Autónomo Nacional de Acueductos y Alcantarillados (SANAA) (1999). Normas de

Diseño para Acueductos Rurales V.1.0, Tegucigulpa, Honduras.
Chapter 11 23

Simpson, J.D. (2003). Improvement of existing gravity-fed rural drinking water systems in
Honduras, M.S. Report, Civil & Environmental Engineering, Michigan Technological
University. <http://www.d80.mtu.edu/Resources.html> (January 14, 2008).
Chapter 11 24

Figure Captions

Figure 11-1. Topography and hydraulic grade line (HGL) from a water storage tank (at 120 ft

elevation) to a water user (at 65 feet). The drop in the HGL represented by the letter ‘a’ after the

water tank is the minor loss caused by the pipe inlet.

Figure 11-2. Profile view cross section of horizontal settling tank and components.

Figure 11-3. Profile view cross section of break pressure tank and components. Float valves can be

installed to prevents the overflow of water.

Figure 11-4. Pressure head plotted over ground profile (determined by the topographic survey) to

create the HGL. The top solid line shows the frictional head loss, which is determined by the source

flow and the size of pipe. Here the difference in head from the source to the storage tank is

approximately 260 m, therefore 1-2 break pressure tanks might have been recommended. In the

real scenario depicted here only one break pressure tank was recommended for the midpoint of the

elevation change. This was because of issues of land use and to project costs. Note that the static

head at the midpoint is 130 m, which is greater than the 100-m rule of thumb mentioned in the text.

However, if PVC RD17 pipe was used, the allowable pressure would be 176 m (Table 11-4) so the

system should not fail from pipe rupture (Niskanen 2003).

Chapter 11 25

Figure 11-5. Locations of sediment clean out valves (points A, C, and E) and air release valves

(points B and D) (adapted from Jordan 1980).

Figure 11-6. Determination of flow rate in each pipe of a branched system. Neighborhood needs

are determined by adding individual user needs. In this system, the flow rates would be calculating

by starting at the right and working backwards to the left.

Figure 11-7. Components of a typical tap stand design.

Figure 11-8. Tap stands with concrete post and concrete erosion protection (top), concrete post and

underground pipe to minimize erosion (middle), and detached wooden post and large stones to

provide erosion protection (bottom).

Figure 11-9. Tap stand design integrated with greywater evacuation, drainage, and optional

shutoff valves and meters.

Figure 11-10. Splitter-box that divides water into 50%, 25%, and 25% pipes.
Chapter 11 26

Figure 11-1. Example how topography and hydraulic grade line (HGL) change from a water
storage tank (at 120 ft elevation) to a water user (at 65 feet). The drop in the HGL represented by
the letter ‘a’ after the water tank is the minor loss caused by the pipe inlet.

Figure 11-2. Profile view cross section of horizontal settling tank and components.
Chapter 11 27

Figure 11-3. Profile view cross section of break pressure tank and components. Float valves can be
installed to prevents the overflow of water.
Chapter 11 28

Ground Profile - Frictional Losses/ Spring to Tank - Los Arroyos/Los Botados

--2" diam. friction loss

1-1/2" diam. friction loss--


--pressure returns to zero

Elevation (m)

--2" diam. friction loss

ground profile-
800 Break-pressure
1-1/2" diam. friction loss--


0 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 1600
Distance (m)

Figure 11-4. Pressure head plotted over ground profile (determined by the
topographic survey) to create the HGL. The top solid line shows the frictional head loss,
which is determined by the source flow and the size of pipe. Here the difference in head
from the source to the storage tank is approximately 260 m, therefore 1-2 break pressure
tanks might have been recommended. In the real scenario depicted here only one break
pressure tank was recommended for the midpoint of the elevation change. This was
because of issues of land use and to project costs. Note that the static head at the midpoint
is 130 m, which is greater than the 100-m rule of thumb mentioned in the text. However, if
PVC RD17 pipe was used, the allowable pressure would be 176 m (Table 11-4) so the
system should not fail from pipe rupture (Niskanen 2003).
Chapter 11 29

Figure 11-5. Locations of sediment clean out valves (points A, C, and E) and air release valves
(points B and D) (adapted from Jordan 2000).
Chapter 11 30

Q=0.4 ft3/s Neighborhood
Q=0.1 ft3/s

Q=0.6 ft3/s Q=0.1 ft3/s

+ 0.4 ft3/s + 0.3 ft3/s
= 1.0 ft3/s = 0.4 ft3/s

Q=0.4 ft3/s Neighborhood

Water + 0.2 ft3/s needing
Source = 0.6 ft3/s Q=0.3 ft3/s

Q=0.2 ft3/s

Figure 11-6. Determination of flow rate in each pipe of a branched system. Neighborhood needs
are determined by adding individual user needs. In this system, the flow rates would be calculating
by starting at the right and working backwards to the left.
Chapter 11 31

Figure 11-7. Components of a typical tap stand design.

Chapter 11 32

Figure 11-8. Tap stands with concrete post and concrete erosion protection (top), concrete post and
underground pipe to minimize erosion (middle), and detached wooden post and large stones to
provide erosion protection (bottom).
Chapter 11 33

Figure 11-9. Tap stand design integrated with greywater evacuation, drainage, and optional
shutoff valves and meters.
Chapter 11 34

Figure 11-10. Splitter-box that divides water into 50%, 25%, and 25% pipes.
Chapter 11 35

Table 11-1. Roughness (ks) of various pipe materials (Crowe et al. 2001).
Pipe Material ks (ft)
PVC 3.3x10-7
Copper, Brass 4.9x10-6
Steel 1.5x10-4
Galvanized Iron 4.9x10-4
Cast Iron 8.5x10-4
Concrete 9.8x10-4 to 9.8x10-3
Riveted Steel 3.0x10-3 to 3.0x10-2

Table 11-2. Friction factor for use in Equation 11-1 for various relative roughness/pipe diameter
ratios (ks/D), assuming fully turbulent flow (Crowe et al. 2001).

ks/D f
0.00001 0.008
0.00005 0.011
0.0001 0.012
0.0002 0.014
0.0004 0.016
0.0006 0.018
0.0008 0.019
0.001 0.02
0.002 0.024
0.004 0.029
0.006 0.032
0.008 0.036
0.01 0.038
0.015 0.044
0.02 0.05
0.03 0.056
0.04 0.065
0.05 0.07
Chapter 11 36

Table 11-3. Minor loss coefficient (K) values for various fittings (Crowe et al. 2001)

Pipe Entrance d r/d

0.0 K=0.50
0.1 K=0.12
r >0.2 K=0.03

Contraction D1 D2 D2/D1 K for θ=60o K for θ=180o

0.0 0.08 0.50
θ 0.20 0.08 0.49
0.40 0.07 0.42
0.60 0.06 0.27
0.80 0.06 0.20
0.90 0.06 0.10
D1 D2
Expansion D1/D2 K for θ=20o K for θ=180o
0.0 1.00
0.20 0.30 0.87
0.40 0.25 0.70
0.60 0.15 0.41
0.80 0.10 0.15

90o Sharp Miter K=1.1


Pipe Fittings Globe valve – wide open K=10.0

Angle valve – wide open K=5.0
Gate valve – wide open K=0.2
Gate valve – half open K=5.6
Return bend K=2.2
straight through flow K=0.4
side-outlet flow K=1.8
90o elbow K=0.9
45o elbow K=0.4
Chapter 11 37

Table 11-4. Standard values for typical pipe materials (from Menon 2005; Purcell 2003) (1 bar equals 10.197
m of water).

Material Hazen-Williams C Pressure Limit (Bars) Pressure Limit

(m of head)
PCV (Class B) 150 6 61
PCV (Class C) 150 9 91
PCV (Class D) 150 12 122
PCV (Class E) 150 15 125
PE (medium density) 150 12.5 127
PE (high density) 150 16 163
Iron Tubing 120 40 407
Prestressed Concrete 120 20 204
Chapter 11 38

Table 11-5. Typical Pipe Material Sizes, Advantages, and Disadvantages.

Pipe Material Lengths and Types* Advantages Disadvantages Typically Appli

Limited allowable
pressure Lower
PVC Pipe Typically 10' or 20' lengths Low cost pressure areas
Possible damage
due to blunt force

Easier to vandalize

Becomes brittle
when exposed to
sunlight for an
Flexible, easy to place in a extended period of Areas not
(Polyvinyl Chloride) 1/4" - 4" diameter trench time vulnerable to impac

Also available in long spiral

sections, which will require
fewer joints

Modification by
cutting or burning

Smoother, therefore causes

less head loss and allows a
smaller diameter to be used
GI Pipe Typically 20' lengths Very durable Higher cost High pressure areas

Stream or gorge
crossings, and othe
locations where
pipe is exposed.
Another option for
scenario is to have
larger-diameter PV
pipe surrounding th
smaller-diameter pi
Allowable pressure Added labor to that actually carries
(Galvanized Iron) 1/4" - 4" diameter is much higher bend or modify water, in order to p

Additional tools
required to install

Requires pipe

Can experience
corrosion and
blockage due to
calcium deposits
*Subject to specific availability in each country
Chapter 11 39

Table 11-6. Pipeline Flow Rate Design Limits (L/s) for Different Pipe Sizes

Pipe Diameter, mm
25 32 40 50 80 100

Minimum 0.35 0.60 0.90 1.4 3.5 6.0

Maximum 1.4 2.0 3.5 5.0 n/a n/a

Chapter 11 40

Table 11-7. Common Water Myths.

Myth Fact
Decreasing pipe size increases pressure at the tap. The Energy Equation (11-4) shows that if you
decrease the pipe size, there is more head loss,
meaning that more pressure is “burned off” due to
friction by the time the water reaches the end of the

If there is not enough pressure at the tap, then the Opening the valve may help, but if there are other
control valve just has to be opened more. causes of head loss (too small a pipe, blockage by
sediment, etc.) then you still won’t get enough flow.

Water does not flow uphill. Water can flow uphill if there is enough pressure to
push it up the hill. This can be seen in the Energy
Equation (11-4) by solving for all of the pressure
terms on one side of the equation. All that’s left on
the other side of the equation is head loss and
elevation difference. If there is enough pressure
difference to overcome the head loss and elevation
difference, then water can indeed flow uphill. The
needed pressure can be supplied by a pump or for
gravity systems, by a sufficient difference in

Having a sudden drop in the pipeline is not good. Having a sudden drop is OK if the pressure stays
below the pressure that would cause the pipe to