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Technical Service Center — Water Conveyance Group

Pipelines

Engineers design pipelines to transport, or convey, materials from one place to another. The more commonly conveyed materials are fluids and are water, natural gas, and oil products. The Bureau of Reclamation designs, constructs, and maintains pipelines that convey water. Reclamation engineers maintain a database on pipelines they have built.

Engineers design pipes in various ways depending on cost, head, and size. They are generally circular in cross section, and their sizes are referred to by diameter. Reclamation has built 4500 miles of water conveyance pipelines. These range in size from 4 inches to 21 feet in diameter.

Diameter is one way to describe a pipe. Another way is by how much pressure or head the pipeline resists without bursting. Engineers measure water conveyance pipeline's heads in pounds per square inch (p.s.i.) or feet (of water). This is equivalent of saying that a pipeline can hold the pressure caused by a column of water so many feet high. Reclamation has built pipelines that contain heads up to 825 feet (350 p.s.i.).

Pipes designed to resist pressure are called pressure pipes. If a pipeline conveys water that is not under pressure and is not flowing full, it is called a free-flow pipeline.