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How to get the most out of your water storage tank

A recoated elevated water storage tank.

By Robertson Gibb, P.Eng

Water pressure and distribution in most communities is maintained via steel water storage tanks, which operate relatively maintenance and trouble free for extended multi-year periods. However, the time comes when gradual corrosion, OH&S regulation updates, water quality fluctuations or even ‘loss-of-curb’ appeal, can result in this mostly ‘passive’ infrastructure requiring upgrades. This can cost up to one-third of the initial construction cost. Therefore, a rehabilitation program should be designed to ensure asset preservation, process water quality improvements, and operator safety.

With tanks constructed 30 or more years ago, the entire exterior structure required recoating. These include multi-leg, spheroid, and single-pedestal fluted steel tanks. Both the water containing tank shell and supporting structure (i.e., pedestal or column used to raise the storage tank for optimal distribution pressures) required a coating system to prevent rapid and excess rusting.

In the early 1980s, composite welded steel tanks began to appear. While the elevated steel tank still required refurbishment every 15-20 years, the concrete pedestal was essentially maintenance free. The relatively low construction costs and reduced maintenance helped lead to an almost exclusive adoption of this tank type. Recently, a relatively new tower type, comprised of a concrete pedestal, supporting a bolted glass-lined steel tank, has emerged.This option is similar to the standard composite elevated welded steel tank except that the glass-lined bolted steel structure does not require recoating.

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Routine inspection
inspecting the interior access tube
Inspecting the interior access tube of a water storage tank.

Regardless of tank type, a routine inspection schedule should be implemented. Initial inspections should take place on the first and second year anniversary of a new coating application (or after new tank construction). These can be completed by a remotely operated vehicle inspection camera, by partially draining the tank, or by a completely dry confined space entry.

After the warranty period, the AWWA recommends a comprehensive inspection every three to five years. Once the coating starts to break down, the rate of deterioration of the coating system and underlying steel substrate will be accelerated. Also, the amount of metal loss and pitting within the tank increases. It is most important to monitor the condition of the tank in the latter half of it’s service life to avoid more extensive repairs.

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  1. Thorough maintenance and regular inspections are mandatory when it comes to water storage tanks. preventing bigger issues and detecting the ones while they’re still small can save you a lot of time and money.

  2. My grandmother lives in the middle of nowhere. She doesn’t have access to public utilities, and she has a modest water tank. I didn’t realize that routine inspection schedule can help ensure the tank is safe and operational, and that a new coating should be done within the first couple of years after installation. I’ll be sure to let my grandma know about this information.

  3. I agree that it’s wise to have your water tank routinely inspected to ensure everything is in good structural condition. If there are issues, I imagine it would be much cheaper to repair them than to have your water tank replaced. Plus, it helps to have a professional opinion on the condition of your water tank so you don’t have to worry about it breaking or leaking and damaging other parts of your property.

  4. You said that we should have a routine inspection schedule. If I was going to get a new water tank I would want to make sure a professional would be able to inspect it and keep me safe. I’ll need to take extra precautions so that I don’t put anyone in my family in danger of the water tank.

  5. That’s a good tip to inspect your tank the year after you get it. That way you’ll see it’s state after its had wear and tear. If you can determine how much wear it receives, you can make a maintenance schedule to pre-empt repairs.

  6. I like the tip that a regular inspection of the water tank for breaks in the sealant would be a big factor in saving money. Is there a certain amount of time that you recommend to have in between inspections? I owned a water tank, I would want to make sure that I’m not losing money because of a simple fix.


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