Epcor 99 Avenue Shaft Construction

Trenchless Technology Canada’s 2024 Municipal Roundtable

Q&A Provides Insight from System Owners on Their Use of Trenchless Technologies and Where the Industry Is Headed

When it comes to construction work an engineer could have an award-winning trenchless design and a contractor can possess the skills and needed technology to make those plans a reality, but neither can go anywhere without a client’s permission.

In the world of trenchless technology, owners come in a variety of sizes and ownership structures across a broad spectrum of utilities. Our annual Trenchless Technology Canada system owner-focused roundtable looks at how various system owners use trenchless technologies, why they go trenchless and, most importantly, the role funding on completing trenchless works.

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We’re honored to have responses from these owners and thank them for their input today.

Municipal Roundtable Participants

Shashi Bandara, P.Eng.
Shashi Bandara, P.Eng., Project Engineer, City of Port Moody, British Columbia
Vijayakumar Chinnathambi, P.Eng., PMP., IntPE
Vijayakumar Chinnathambi, P.Eng., PMP., IntPE., APEC. Project Manager Construction Project Management, EPCOR Drainage
Derek Falardeau-Mercier, P. Eng.
Derek Falardeau-Mercier, P. Eng., Manager WWW Design & Development, Water and Wastewater Engineering, Niagara Region

Please offer some background on your system, and anything that makes it unique.

Bandara: The City of Port Moody owns and operates 127 km of gravity sewers, 10 km of forcemains and six lift stations, servicing 35,000 people as part of the sanitary sewer network. The material of pipe ranges from asbestos cement, PVC, HDPE and SDR41 PVC. The oldest sewers that are still in service are approximately 70 years old.

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As part of the water network, Port Moody owns and operates 132 km of watermains, 16 PRV stations, five pump stations, four reservoirs through 11 pressure zones. The oldest watermain in service is approximately 60 years old. The materials of pipe are mainly Ductile Iron, PVC and Cast Iron.

Chinnathambi: EPCOR’s story began in Edmonton, Alberta in 1891 as Canada’s first municipally-owned electric utility. In 1996, the City of Edmonton formally established EPCOR as a stand-alone, private company and became its sole shareholder and regulator. When EPCOR was formed, it was the first strategic linking of a power and water utility in Canada, with a mandate for growth beyond its hometown.

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Today, EPCOR builds, owns and operates electrical, natural gas and water transmission and distribution networks, water and wastewater treatment facilities, sanitary and stormwater systems, and infrastructure in Canada and the United States, employing approximately 3,600 employees and serving approximately 2 million customers.

Our system in Edmonton alone serves approximately 410,0000 customers, which equates to nearly 1 million people. Our extensive network spans approximately 12,400 km of piping. This infrastructure represents a unique fusion of state-of-the-art technology and historical elements. Comprising potable water transmission and distribution mains, along with sanitary wastewater, and stormwater collection and conveyance pipes, most of these conduits have served the city and its community for over a century, underscoring both their durability and the imperative for modernization.

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This intricate network, combined with our unique history commitment to deliver safe, sustainable and reliable utility services, makes us unique when it comes to our utility peers. These commitments also drive our approach when it comes to operational efficiency. We’re continually innovating and exploring new methodologies, while balancing the renewal of assets and working to minimize service disruptions.

Falardeau-Mercier: The Region of Niagara is comprised of 12 local municipalities. Regarding the delivery of water and wastewater services, the Region operates under a two-tier system, meaning the Region of Niagara owns and operates the treatment plants, reservoirs, pumping stations, large transmission watermains and trunk sanitary sewers; whereas the local municipalities own and operation their respective distribution watermains and collector sanitary sewers.

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In addition to the multitude of treatment and conveyance facilities, the Region’s linear infrastructure consists of approximately 313 km of trunk watermains, 146 km of trunk sewers and 162 km of forcemains. Pipe sizes range from 100 to 1,500 mm, pipe materials include PVC, CPP, ductile iron, cast iron, HDPE, series polyethylene and reinforced concrete with some linear assets over 100 years old. This infrastructure services approximately 478,000 Niagara residents and millions of tourists each year.

Niagara Region trenchless rehab

What are the main problems/challenges you are facing with your system?

Chinnathambi: The challenges faced are multifaceted and are further impacted by population growth. The City of Edmonton is projected to grow to 2 million residents by 2065. This means our local infrastructure must adapt rapidly to accommodate the influx of new residents and businesses, necessitating seamless integration of assets.

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Maintenance and repair efforts must be balanced with the demands of expanding capacity, all while combating issues like odour reduction and mitigating stormwater inflow and infiltration (I&I).

Additionally, the potential for extreme weather events not only pose heightened flood risks to neighbourhoods and our infrastructure throughout the city, but to our water and wastewater treatment plants, which reside on the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. It’s a delicate balancing act that requires integrated planning, innovative solutions and strategic investments to ensure our systems remain resilient and the delivery of essential services uninterrupted while adapting to population growth and protecting our community from climate-related challenges.

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Bandara: Given that the majority of the system consists of gravity mains, combined with the age of the systems, I&I continues to be the main problem for the City’s sanitary sewer network. The City also owns and operates a large diameter low pressure main (Ioco Siphon) which is shallow-buried in some parts and constructed with SDR-41 PVC. While the siphon was built in the late 1980s, the material of the pipe and its original construction methodologies has accelerated its deterioration. Maintenance and repair of aging sewers is a secondary issue as smaller mains servicing neighbourhoods are located within ROWs behind houses. It is often difficult to access to carry out routine maintenance and repair.

Falardeau-Mercier: The Niagara Region has a lot of infrastructure that is nearing or beyond its anticipated lifecycle. I&Is are also problematic throughout the Region, including some areas where there are still combined sewers or aging linear infrastructure in disrepair. With the amount of growth the Region is anticipating, infrastructure capacity is also a concern.

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Niagara Region trenchless rehab

When did your organization begin using trenchless technologies? What specific trenchless technologies do you use?

Falardeau-Mercier: I’m not sure exactly when the Region began using trenchless technologies, however, lately we’ve been using it much more frequently. Between horizontal directional drilling (HDD), auger boring or microtunnelling for highway, railway or water body crossings, deep tunnel trunk sewers to cured-in-place pipe (CIPP) rehabilitation.

Chinnathambi: Our organization began integrating trenchless technologies due to the unique topography of the City of Edmonton. With the city’s river valley lying several meters below the elevations of some communities, traditional excavation methods posed significant challenges. As a result, implementing deep tunnel infrastructure became a major undertaking, prompting us to explore alternative approaches that could minimize disruption in services to customers while effectively addressing our infrastructure needs.

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Trenchless technologies emerged as a solution perfectly suited to our diverse landscape, allowing us to navigate difficult terrain and access critical underground assets with the least amount of ground disturbance to surrounding areas. This also helped provide a more efficient and sustainable approach to infrastructure management.

We employ a range of trenchless technologies tailored to specific needs, including pipe bursting, CIPP lining, HDD and microtunnelling. Each method is chosen based on factors such as pipe material, location and project scope and cost.

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Bandara: The City of Port Moody has been using trenchless technologies for approximately 10 years starting with relining gravity sewer mains in older neighbourhoods. The City mainly uses CIPP technologies to reline sewers and laterals, but it has used pipe bursting and sliplining in smaller capacities over the years.

Niagara Region trenchless rehab

How has your use of trenchless technologies changed over the last few years?

Bandara: The City considered trenchless technologies for all new rehabilitation/replacement projects. The use of trenchless technologies has increased over the years. We have just completed a relining of a large diameter forcemain (approximately 1.5 km in length).

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Falardeau-Mercier: The Niagara Region has increased its use of CIPP lining for trunk sewer rehabilitation. Due to the depth and space constraints on some of our trunk sewers, replacement has been determined to be cost inefficient, so we’ve been relying on CIPP methods to rehabilitate some of the Region’s trunk sewers. The Region has also experienced an increased use of HDD, auger boring or microtunnelling to install new infrastructure across an Ontario MTO highway, railway or some body of water.

Chinnathambi: Over the last few years, we’ve witnessed a notable increase in the utilization of trenchless technologies across various aspects of our operations. This shift reflects the need for larger growth infrastructure projects in established communities, advancements in technology and a deeper understanding of the benefits trenchless methods offer in terms of cost-effectiveness and minimizing community disruption.

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Niagara Region trenchless rehab

What are some of the things that impede your use of trenchless technologies?

Falardeau-Mercier: I don’t believe there is anything major that impedes the Region from using trenchless technologies on our projects as long as the approach is the most cost effective or mitigates certain risks. Typically, trenchless applications are associated with problematic or more complex projects, therefore, funding and project budgets are occasionally an obstacle. Depending on the trenchless method selected, sometimes there is a lack of experienced local contractors available, which, therefore, drives up project costs to have someone mobilized.

Bandara: Lack of familiarity with trenchless technologies both from a design perspective and construction perspective are main obstacles. Lack of funding is also an issue as there is a lack of senior government grants available for rehabilitation/replacement of water/sanitary systems.

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Chinnathambi: Several factors can impede our use of trenchless technologies, including a shortage of qualified contractors skilled in these specialized techniques and challenges in sourcing high-quality materials necessary for successful implementation.

It is crucial for small and medium-size enterprises to conduct a comprehensive assessment of construction options during the design phase. This includes thoroughly evaluating trenchless methods and the benefits they offer, which extend beyond mere cost advantages. Intangible benefits such as minimized disruption to communities and reduced impacts of construction play a significant role in the decision-making process, highlighting the importance of a holistic approach to infrastructure development.

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Niagara Region trenchless rehab

How much of your trenchless work is done in-house?

Falardeau-Mercier: The Region conducts a yearly CCTV program on our trunk sewers with the intention to video and assess our trunk sewers every five years. This program is managed in-house by our Asset Performance group, which retains a CCTV Contractor to complete the video inspections.

Any detailed designs pertaining to a trenchless installation or pipe rehabilitation is managed by our Water & Wastewater Engineering group, which retains a Consulting Engineering firm specializing in that specific area of expertise. The Region has a roster with a pool of consultants experienced specifically for Linear Infrastructure Trenchless Installation and Linear Infrastructure Rehabilitation type projects.

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Chinnathambi: EPCOR strives to strike a balance between outsourcing work and utilizing in-house expertise. We have dedicated significant efforts to enhancing our in-house capabilities in trenchless rehabilitation, design, inspection and cleaning. Through ongoing investment in training and technology, we aim to continuously improve our proficiency and efficiency in these areas. At the same time, we recognize the value of leveraging market expertise and learning from external partners. This collaborative approach allows us to stay at the forefront of trenchless innovation while ensuring we deliver the highest quality of service to our customers.

Bandara: Given that the City of Port Moody is a relatively small municipality, all trenchless work is outsourced.

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Port Moody Shoreline Trail sewer upgrades

How big of an issue is funding from the provincial and federal level? What can be done to ensure continued funding for underground infrastructure?

Bandara: There is a lack of funding from senior level governments for rehabilitation of underground infrastructure (i.e. sanitary and water). Funding is available for expansion of service or capacity increases but not for like-for-like replacements or rehabilitation.

Falardeau-Mercier: Provincial and federal funding is always a benefit to our capital program when it is available. The Niagara Region is fairly large geographically and comparable to other area municipalities; however, it doesn’t have a similar population or tax base. This results in a smaller capital program to sustain or upgrade facilities and assets required to provide clean drinking water and wastewater collection/treatment services.

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Provincial and federal funding provides that boost required to complete some of our capital projects not only to provide infrastructure sustainability but also support the anticipated growth in the Region. When the Region does receive government assistance, the funding is used wisely on critical projects to get the most benefit from it. An example of this was for the Region’s Stamford Interceptor Trunk Sanitary Sewer rehabilitation project, which was awarded the 2020 Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) Gas Tax Funding Project of the Year in addition to other trenchless industry awards and honors.

Chinnathambi: EPCOR actively pursues various funding sources to support initiatives that benefit the communities and customers we serve. Examples include support from the federal government’s Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund, the City of Edmonton’s Sanitary Servicing Strategy Fund (SSSF) and others. These partnerships enable us to reduce the overall financial impact on our ratepayers.

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Port Moody inspection setup

Typically for water and sanitary systems, a council or board has to approve projects. Do you have buy-in from those decision-makers to use trenchless technologies?

Chinnathambi: As EPCOR’s sole shareholder and regulator, the city approves the rates that EPCOR charges its customers. These rates help fund many important asset maintenance and new capital projects. When we’re seeking approval for our rates, we also need to demonstrate our plans for how we plan to invest the funds collected through our rates, which includes many important capital projects. EPCOR projects are internally approved by a Financial Review Council and our Board of Directors, both of whom support the use of trenchless technologies.

Securing buy-in from decision-makers for any projects, not just trenchless initiatives, entails presenting a comprehensive business case that justifies various options. This includes conducting a thorough cost-benefit analysis over the long term, emphasizing factors such as cost savings, reduced community disruption and prolonged asset lifespan. Additionally, building trust through the successful execution of past projects is instrumental in fostering confidence and support among decision-makers.

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Bandara: All capital expenditures are approved by Council. Typically, engineering staff explain the best course of action for any rehabilitation or replacement project. Council/board members are often less familiar with trenchless technologies and require more engagement to get buy-in.

Falardeau-Mercier: Our Regional Council approves our yearly Capital Program. However, the use of trenchless technologies is typically determined during the detailed design process following some form of evaluation process. The scope of project and approach methodology is determined with buy-in from Senior Leadership.

What have you learned from your experience with trenchless technologies?

Bandara: While there may be fewer contractors that utilize trenchless technologies, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of knowledge and attention to detail of the trenchless contractor who completed a recent sewer rehab project for Port Moody. When local knowledge and experience was lacking, the contractor took proactive measures to enlist seasoned professionals to oversee the project, ensuring guidance for less experienced personnel and maintaining quality assurance and quality control standards.

Falardeau-Mercier: Trenchless technologies can be a great solution to a difficult problem if you have an experienced engineering consultant and contractor part of your team. The Region has experienced some really great successful trenchless projects but has also experienced a few that were considered unsuccessful. Extra effort that is put into the planning, design and preparation of these projects will only help mitigate risks, provide a response plan to address emergency or unknown issues and make projects more successful.

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Chinnathambi: In reflecting on our experience with trenchless technologies, it’s evident that there is always more than just one way to accomplish work. Our adaptability to evolving technologies and techniques is integral to the success of our project undertakings. Moreover, the value of collaboration with industry partners and stakeholders cannot be overstated. It directly contributes to the success of our projects and enhances the efficiency with which we deliver key infrastructure, ensuring that we meet the evolving needs of our community.

Do you see your use of trenchless technologies increasing in the next decade?

Falardeau-Mercier: The use of trenchless technologies has increased significantly at the Region over the past decade, and it is anticipated that this will only increase further while we rehabilitate our existing assets or install newer larger infrastructure.

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Bandara: I definitely see the use of trenchless technologies increasing in future. Given the minimum impacts to aboveground infrastructure, minimal traffic impacts and environmental impacts, the use of trenchless technologies has become an attractive alternative to conventional open-cut methodologies to rehabilitate sewers and watermains.

Chinnathambi: We anticipate an increase in the use of microtunnelling technology, with a focus on asset condition assessment using multi-sensor inspections. Additionally, methods such as cured-in-place and slip lining pipes are expected to continue their upward trajectory. Furthermore, advancements in automation will play a pivotal role in fueling inspection, rehabilitation, and growth projects, ensuring efficiency and precision in our operations. This aligns with the ongoing rehabilitation needs alongside expected growth, where all forms of trenchless technologies have major role to play.

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What are some of the unique approaches your organization has taken to solving its infrastructure problems?

Bandara: The City has used a number of alternative procurement methods to reduce costs and improve timelines, including the use of negotiated RFPs rather than traditional MMCD tenders, as well as procurement of long lead items in advance of construction.

The City has also piloted the use of an ACP sag correction system to correct a sag of a sewer main underneath City Hall. The sag was corrected in 2019 and monitoring of the sewer is ongoing on a bi-annual basis.

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Chinnathambi: In addition to a greater focus on integrated resource planning, we are currently undertaking alternative procurement delivery methods such as Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) and design-build approaches. Additionally, pilot projects are being initiated to test new technologies and embrace emerging trends in asset management. This proactive approach allows us to stay ahead of the curve, ensuring that we can effectively address the evolving needs of our infrastructure while delivering optimal outcomes for the customers and communities we serve.

Falardeau-Mercier: On occasion, the Region may conduct a prequalification process for trenchless applications such as microtunnelling on critical crossings. Recently, the Region has been using a Negotiated Request for Proposal procurement process for sewer rehabilitation projects using a cured-in-place pipe method. With the assistance of a consulting engineer, an RFP document is developed, providing the contractor with a performance specification for the liner system and also providing project specific constraints and opportunities. This allows the contractor some flexibility in adding their experience and innovation in the solution and approach.

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The contractor’s proposal submission then allows the Region to evaluate contractors from a qualitative perspective based on a variety of elements such as their past experience on similar projects, materials and methods, flow control plan and project work plan before any financial details are known. This process gives the Region the opportunity to review all of these items to ensure we are confident the contractor can deliver the whole package. The negotiation component of the process also gives the Region, consultant and contractor the opportunity to explore and negotiate alternative approaches, materials or risk mitigation measures that may not have been considered during detailed design.

Any advice to communities hesitant to employ trenchless?

Bandara: The hesitation to employ trenchless technologies stems mostly from the lack of familiarity with the technology and its limited use thus far in the municipal world. There are many advantages of using trenchless technologies and I would encourage designers and municipal engineering staff to thoroughly investigate all trenchless technologies available prior to making any decision for rehab. Resources like this magazine, NASTT and CUIIC Academy are excellent resources for researching available technologies and connecting with other municipalities for lessons learned.

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Falardeau-Mercier: Trenchless technologies should not be feared and can oftentimes lead to a more cost-effective, quicker and less disruptive solution. If you are new to a certain trenchless method, then reach out to another municipality to learn from their experiences, see about conducting a site visit on an active project, attend a trenchless seminar or conference. The best thing to do is to ask questions to other municipalities, consultants and contractors in this area of expertise. These trenchless methods have been used for several years now and are only improving with the new equipment and new technology.

Chinnathambi: Ensuring customers are consulted and are aware of the project activities and impacts play a crucial role in building community acceptance for these large, extended projects. We are committed to communicating the benefits of projects, as well as their impact to communities. It’s important that our customers are well-informed of what is happening at each stage of a project.

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Do you participate in trenchless industry conferences, seminars, etc.? How does that help promote your organization’s use of trenchless technologies?

Bandara: We’ve recently taken part in several industry conferences to highlight the City’s adoption of CIPP technology in a recent project. While speaking at these events is a clear method to advocate for trenchless technologies, engaging in discussions with attendees from other municipalities facing similar challenges and sharing insights from our projects utilizing trenchless methods also serves as an effective way to promote this technology.

Falardeau-Mercier: We have presented some of our projects at various No-Dig and No-Dig North conferences in the United States and Canada over the past few years. We’ve also participated in a number of the various trenchless seminars such as CIPP, HDD and pipe bursting. These events help our project managers stay up to date on equipment and technological improvements.

Chinnathambi: Many members of EPCOR actively participate in conferences such as NASTT No-Dig North, Canadian Underground Infrastructure Innovation Centre (CUIIC), and UESI Pipelines conferences. Active participation in such trenchless industry events provides invaluable opportunities for networking, staying updated on the latest industry advancements, and sharing best practices and lessons learned. Our engagement in these conferences also helps encourage the use of trenchless technologies, as well as fosters industry collaboration.

Do you have any closing thoughts?

Chinnathambi: I urge stakeholders at all levels to recognize the vital role of underground infrastructure and prioritize sustained investment in its maintenance and modernization. By embracing trenchless technologies and innovative approaches, we can build resilient communities with minimal impacts and equip them to thrive well into the future.

Bandara: Trenchless technologies offer numerous advantages from minimizing disruption to communities and reducing the environmental impact compared to traditional excavation methods. As municipalities continue to struggle with infrastructure renewal, embracing trenchless solutions not only ensures the longevity and efficiency of systems but also fosters innovation and collaboration to improve these technologies.

Falardeau-Mercier: Through past experiences on a variety of trenchless projects it can be said that you get what you pay for, so I would definitely recommend a quality approach on larger or riskier projects versus simply a low bid quantity approach when procuring either the consultant or contractor.

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Mike Kezdi is managing editor of Trenchless Technology Canada.

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