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  • Writer's pictureChelsea Biehl

Rural water district finds success with fusion, HDPE technologies

(UI) — About two hours southwest of Sioux Falls, S.D., a rural water district has become one of the state’s biggest champions of high-density polyethylene pipe (HDPE).


Randall Community Water District (RCWD) serves about 2,800 rural customers and 15 bulk customers from its headquarters in Lake Andes, a community with a population of 710 as of the 2020 U.S. Census. Founded in 1976, RCWD has a track record of high-quality service to customers in Charles Mix, Douglas Bon Homme, Aurora, Brule, Hutchinson and Davison Counties.


For decades, RCWD worked with PVC pipe, joining the pipe with bell gaskets. But when the water district was faced with a 3,000-foot bore that couldn’t be done with PVC, Manager Scott Pick realized he needed to find another solution.

“Someone suggested HDPE to us because it was physically impossible to do the joints we needed with PVC,” Pick said.

Pick and RCWD System Operator Mason Wright began researching HDPE in earnest, which led them to Rob Braun of the Omaha-based Industrial Sales.

The rest, as they say, is history.

“We started learning a lot about HDPE,” Pick said. “We learned to fuse, and we got good at it.”

In addition to its longevity and durability, Pick said he was attracted to HDPE because of its availability, and the fact that the product used by RWCD is manufactured within the state. An order for 13 miles of 8-inch HDPE, he said, arrived in less than a month.

Aging water system

RCWD is one of South Dakota’s oldest water systems. Today, it’s also one of the largest systems in the state. But its oldest lines are nearing the 50-year mark, and a combination of increased demand and pipe failures means the district has been busy replacing the existing lines with HDPE.

For pipe installation, RCWD uses the plow-in method. More commonly seen outside the United States, it involves threading pre-fused pipe along or into the furrow in a plow. A six-foot-deep pilot hole is dug, then a boot attached to the plow is guided into the pilot hole. As the plow, pulled by a high-horsepower bulldozer, digs the hole, the pipe threads through the boot and goes into the ground.

The soil naturally falls back into the trench, and a bulldozer following behind the plow re-packs the soil, completing the entire process. It’s a method that’s best suited for long, open stretches of land – much like the terrain around Lake Andes.

Plow-in is especially useful in farmland because it can be used to install pipe – such as irrigation lines or water lines – with minimal soil disruption. It just so happened that farmland made up a large percentage of RCWD’s sites.

“We can fuse five-mile stretches at a time without stopping,” Wright said. “Then once it’s done, we just load the pipe into the boot and take off with the plow.”

The boot itself was custom-made for RCWD. It threads the pipe over the cab of the plow and down the center of the windshield and hood, pushing it into an opening in the boot and then into the earth. It worked so well that in mid-2022, RCWD invested in a higher-horsepower plow that had been refabricated strictly for pulling fused tiling (irrigation) pipe.

The results spoke for themselves. An eight-inch, DR11 installation that Pick thought would take several weeks was completed in just two days.

“We actually caught up with the fusion tech, who was ahead of us fusing the pipe with a McElroy TracStar 412,” Pick said.

The process worked so efficiently that Braun provided a second TracStar 412, doubling the productivity and greatly increasing the speed at which the water lines could be installed. Braun provided fusion training on the McElroy machinery to System Operator Jared Swanson, who received his fusion certification shortly after.

“We chose the TracStar 412 because its size range fit best with the pipes we planned on using,” Wright said. “If we need to increase our pipe size, we’ll definitely be looking at a larger McElroy machine.”



Water sources

RCWD sources its water from the Francis Kase Reservoir, located along the Missouri River in the south-central part of the state. This 5.7-million-acre lake is the second-largest in the state, and RCWD has three pumps that can provide 7,500 gallons per minute each.


As of winter 2022, RCWD was in the process of expanding its pump capabilities, installing 1,500 feet of 28-inch IPS DR13.5 pipe to boost its capacity further.

Now, for Pick, the sky’s the limit on possibilities.

“The city of Mitchell, which is a community of about 15,000 people, called us wanting to install a redundant water source,” Pick said. “We met with them to discuss a project that would be roughly 70 miles of 20- to 24-inch HDPE.”

Pick wants RCWD to be an example of how HDPE can change the industry.

“We’re sold on HDPE,” he said. “We have yet to have a failure on the pipe, and we’ve never had a joint pull apart. We even had someone drive over the pipe once, and nothing happened to it. This is a game-changer, and we want to act as educators.”

Pick said it’s important that the money stays local. Having worked in economic development, he knows that every local dollar spent has a ripple effect that strengthens the community and the state. He’s proud of the fact that RCWD offers some of the best wages and benefits in the county, and that the trenchless method of pipe installation means a safer job site for his employees.

“We don’t have anyone in a trench,” he said. “The safety factor there is tremendous, because we’re never worried that there could be a cave-in.”

In 2022, RCWD installed 22 miles of HDPE. Next year, Pick expects that number to more than double – he’s hoping to see it reach 50 miles.

“The cornerstones of this industry are efficiency and quality,” Pick said. “The McElroy machinery and HDPE pipe, combined with the fusion training that Braun provided and the skills of our fusion technicians, have been hugely successful for us, and we expect that to continue. As I said before, it’s a game-changer.”

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

McElroy Manufacturing, (918) 836-8611, mcelroy.com

Industrial Sales, (800) 366-6880, industrialsales.us

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