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Evaluation of a mass-balance approach to determine consumptive water use in northeastern Illinois

December 2, 2014

A principal component of evaluating and managing water use is consumptive use. This is the portion of water withdrawn for a particular use, such as residential, which is evaporated, transpired, incorporated into products or crops, consumed by humans or livestock, or otherwise removed from the immediate water environment. The amount of consumptive use may be estimated by a water (mass)-balance approach; however, because of the difficulty of obtaining necessary data, its application typically is restricted to the facility scale. The general governing mass-balance equation is: Consumptive use = Water supplied - Return flows.

This study explored a mass-balance field-based computation of consumptive use in a residential setting at the scale of a sanitary sewer service area (sewershed). In addition, the feasibility (cost and difficulty) and relative uncertainties (accuracies) associated with applying the approach at this scale were evaluated. The study was conducted during 2011–13 within a 3.5-square mile (mi2) sewershed confined to a predominantly residential area of Elk Grove Village, Illinois. Following background evaluation of the geohydrologic setting, sewershed infrastructure, and possible components of supplied and returned water, the identified primary components were

1. public water deliveries by the Elk Grove Village Department of Public Works,

2. self-served groundwater withdrawals in an included unincorporated neighborhood with public sanitary sewer service,

3. return flows to the sanitary sewer system, and

4. direct return of water discharged from swimming pools to Salt Creek. Water volumes principally were reported for deliveries, measured for sanitary sewer returns by using an acoustic Doppler current-velocity meter, and estimated for domestic withdrawals and swimming pool discharges to storm sewers. All water volumes required some degree of estimation. Observation wells were installed adjacent to sewer pipelines (lines) to determine the depth of the water table relative to that of the sewer lines and to collect water samples for detection of optical brighteners, as they are routinely discharged as clotheswashing waste to sanitary sewers. These data provided qualitative information on gains (inflow and infiltration) and losses (exfiltration) of sewer flow by pipe leakage, which might otherwise not be considered in the sewer flow return measurements. Hydrographs of sewer flow also were evaluated to identify and estimate storm-associated inputs to sewer flow.

The volume of sanitary sewer return flow (778 million gallons per year [Mgal/yr]) was determined to substantially exceed the volume of supplied water (566 Mgal/yr), thus, for this study setting, voiding the utility of the applied mass-balance approach for estimating consumptive water use. Mass-balance components, including sanitary sewer flow and supplied-water use, were estimated within reasonable limits of uncertainty. Evidence of a water table that is typically shallower than the area’s sewer lines, yet is sometimes depressed near more deeply buried sewer lines, suggests groundwater infiltration into the sewers contributes to the excess volume of return flow. Technical obstacles and project resources precluded accurate quantification of infiltration volumes and other gains and losses to sanitary sewer flow. As estimated from various simplified methods, a minimum of 26 percent of return flow measured in the sanitary sewer represented groundwater infiltration and stormwater inflow; separately, about 2 percent of return flow was estimated as inflow. On the basis of the alternative winter base-rate method, consumptive use in the sewershed was estimated as 13 percent, which compares favorably with that used by the State of Illinois for Lake Michigan allocation accounting (10 percent) and other States and Canadian Provinces in the Great Lakes region (generally 10-15 percent).

The study also provided other findings considered useful to studies of water use and to performance evaluation of sanitary sewer infrastructure. In urban residential settings, the comparatively small volumes of nonpublic sources of water (self-supplied) and direct (nonsanitary) return flow potentially can be ignored in the estimation of consumptive use. An acoustic Doppler current-velocity meter can be used in sanitary sewers to accurately measure discharge and reasonably estimate storm-associated inflows. Hourly to daily patterns of water use can be readily identified and quantified in the return flow record for the sanitary sewers. Relative volumes of infiltration gains (and exfiltration losses) can be substantial, even in sewer systems of communities making significant investments in system upgrades to limit sewer line leakage. Monitoring of optical brighteners in groundwater (and potentially in sanitary sewer flow) can provide a useful means of identifying probable leakage from (and to) sewer lines. Accurate quantification of gains and losses to sanitary sewer flow at the sewershed scale will require additional research effort and technical advances.

Under ideal conditions, accurate quantification of consumptive use at the sewershed scale by the described mass-balance approach might be possible. Under most prevailing conditions, quantification likely would be more costly and time consuming than that of the present study, given the freely contributed technical support of the host community and relatively appropriate conditions of the study area. Essentials to quantification of consumptive use are a fully cooperative community, storm and sanitary sewers that are separate, and newer sewer infrastructure and (or) a robust program for limiting infiltration, exfiltration, and inflow.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2014
Title Evaluation of a mass-balance approach to determine consumptive water use in northeastern Illinois
DOI 10.3133/sir20145176
Authors P.C. Mills, James J. Duncker, Thomas M. Over, Marian Domanski, Frank L. Engel
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2014-5176
Index ID sir20145176
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Illinois Water Science Center