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Understanding Gravity-flow Pipelines

Understanding Gravity-flow Pipelines

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Published by: georgesavov on Oct 06, 2010
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Page 1 of 12
Livestock Watering
Order No. 590.304-5January 2006
Water Flow, Air Locks and Siphons
This Factsheet discusses the problems and solutions of gravity flow pipe system design. Calculating water flow, pipe size, understanding air locks, and using siphons are covered. Examples and references are given.
When looking at energy options available to use when designing a livestock wateringsystem, if gravity energy is available at the site it is usually the first to be considered because it is ‘free’ energy to:
move water in a pipeline (refer to
Factsheet #590.305-5
in this
 provide pressure to a trough
frost-protect a trough (refer to
Factsheet #590.304-6 
in this
series)While water will ‘flow-down-hill’, gravity pipelines have some specific requirementsfor trouble-free operation.The energy due to gravity at a site is equal to the elevation difference between points,such as between the water supply and the trough site. This elevation difference istermed head with units of feet (for water, more accurately, as feet of head of water).In the case of water, this energy is equal to:
1 foot of elevation drop = 0.433 psi of pressure head
or, for every 2.31 feet of elevation drop = 1 psi of pressure headPipe size and flow rate must be ‘matched’ to this energy using the following steps:
the elevation drop or elevation head is measured
a flow rate is chosen (refer to
Factsheet #590.30
in this
the ‘end-of-pipe’ pressure is chosen (refer also to
Factsheet #590-304-1
then a pipe size can be chosen (refer to
Factsheet #590.30
, page 6, “Example – Gravity System” in this
series, for a “simple” system example)- different pipe sizes and pipe materials will have different flows for a givenelevation drop (i.e., they have different friction losses)(‘friction losses’ are only ‘lost’ to the water system as energy is converted into heat)The “
” question is answered using pipe friction loss tables for the pipe material type and size chosen. All the energy in the elevation head will be used:
some to provide the ‘end-of-pipe’ pressure requirement
the rest will be used up as friction to provide a given flow through the pipeUnfortunately, gravity water flow in pipes must be designed to the terrain of a site, sothe above is a simplification. If the terrain is a consistent or near consistent grade,one pipe size could be chosen to use the available energy evenly over the full pipelength (as in the above noted Example). But sites often have terrains of varyinggrades requiring a closer look at pipe sizing requirements, which could include two
How Much Water Will Flow?
Hydraulic Theory
Page 2 of 12
(or more) pipe sizes. At this point some knowledge of hydraulic theory is needed.The following is a brief and simplified overview of hydraulic theory useful inunderstanding gravity water flow in pipes. See the reference material for more detail.
Continuity of Flow Principle.
This states that
 for constant water flow in a pipe, flow in one part of a pipe is equal to flow at any other part of the pipe
, as shown by:
Point A
Flow =
Point A
Velocity x
Point A
Point B
Velocity x
Point B
Area, etc
As flow is velocity multiplied by pipe area, changing the pipe cross sectional area (alarger or smaller pipe) will cause a change in velocity. This becomes useful whenselecting a pipe size or in negative pressure conditions, page 5.
Water at Rest.
When no water is flowing in a gravity-pressured pipe (as when atrough float valve is closed) it is in static equilibrium. Water levels are at static leveland pressures in the pipe are termed static heads. As no water is flowing there is noenergy loss to friction and the pressures in the pipe are their highest at all points(equal to their elevation below the inlet), highest pressure being at the lowest point.
Water in Motion.
When water is flowing in the pipe friction loss occurs thatreduces the pressure energy at all points along the pipe. With a constant flow asystem is said to be in dynamic equilibrium and pressures are termed dynamic heads.
Hydraulic Grade Line.
To fully illustrate the conditions along a pipe, static anddynamic equilibrium conditions can be plotted on a drawing of the profile of thesystem. When the points of static or dynamic equilibrium are connected they form aline that is termed the hydraulic grade line (
). This line represents the energylevel at each point along the pipe (refer to Figure 1, below). As different flows havedifferent energy levels, they also have different
Figure 1 Profile of a Gravity-Pressured Water System Supplying a Trough :Hydraulic Grade Line under Static and Dynamic Conditions in Examples 1 and 2
Page 3 of 12
for static equilibrium is a horizontal line at the level of the water source, asin static conditions the pipe has an energy level equal to its elevation below thiswater source elevation (no friction loss is occurring).The
for dynamic equilibrium is a line sloped downwards from the water inlet toeither the pressure at the trough float valve or to zero if the outlet flow is toatmosphere. This line always slopes downward, indicating a ‘loss’ of energy as water flows downhill and energy is lost due to friction.
When water is flowing in the pipe energy is lost by the friction of water against the pipe and fittings, and as it enters and exits the pipe, including suchobstacles as air trapped in the pipe (see Air Locks, page 6) and is determined by:
the pipe wall roughness
the velocity of the water (the flow rate through a given pipe diameter)
minor (usually) things like fittings, water temperature, suspended particles, etcFor a given pipe size, the greater the flow - the greater the velocity - the greater theenergy loss by friction. Friction losses are not linear - doubling the flow may increasethe friction loss by up to four times. This energy loss cannot be recovered. As energyin a gravity system is fixed by the elevation difference present, lost energy due tofriction is usually an important design factor. Pipe size is selected to ‘match’ pipefriction loss to the available head to achieve the desired water flow rate.When gravity-pressured water is flowing in a pipe that discharges to the atmosphere(say freely into the top of a trough) the maximum flow is occurring. This means theelevation head is all being converted to friction loss. This flow rate can bedetermined by using the friction loss table (Table 2,
Factsheet #590.304-2
the elevation head (ft) is measured and converted to psi (ft divided by 2.31 = psi)
the pipe length (ft) is measured
the available energy for friction loss is calculated- elevation head divided by pipe length, expressed as psi per 100 ft (psi/100 ft)
this value is located on the friction loss table under the column for the pipe typeand size and the flow rate for those conditions is read Note that systems that use a float valve will require some pressure head at the troughthat will reduce the energy available for friction thereby reducing the flow below thatof the natural rate. Refer to Example 2, next page, and to
Factsheet #590.304-2,
page6, “Example – Gravity System” in this
series, for examples.
Example 1 – Natural Flow
A system is planned that has a 75 feet elevation head and will use 1 inch polyethylene (PE) pipe that is 1200feet long free flowing into a trough as shown in Figure 1. What will be the natural flow?
information given: 75 ft elevation head: divided by 2.31 =
32.5 psi
; and the pipe length is
1200 ft
available energy for friction loss is 32.5 psi divided by (1200 ft / 100) =
2.71 psi/100 ft
of pipe
determine flow rate: from Table 2, page 5,
Factsheet #590.304-2 
a 1 inch PE pipe with a friction lossof 2.71 psi/100 ft will have a flow rate of just under
10 USgpm
this natural flow rate of 10 USgpm is the maximum this system can deliver to the trough with a 1 inch PEpipe - if a greater flow is required a larger pipe must be selected (e.g., a 1¼ inch PE pipe on this sitewould flow just over 20 USgpm)
note: these flow rates are preferred rates for these pipes - they are in the Table 2 shaded areaindicating these flow rates have velocities less than 5 ft/sec, the normal maximum design velocity
Natural Flow

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