Hatchery International

Features Systems management
Problems with old plumbing

February 9, 2023  By Ron Hill

Proper plumbing, in itself, has good life while plumbing being abused in a fish hatchery may not. Photo: Jean Ko Din, Hatchery International

Behind every tank, every filter, and other water systems in a hatchery is the plumbing. Plumbing is so fundamental to aquaculture that it is rarely thought about in its own right. The plumbing choices, including material, sizing, run location, and setup are decided based on the needs of the facility at the time of installation, but the choices can have long-lasting effects on a hatchery. Aging plumbing presents new problems for technicians in a number of ways.

Inherited plumbing
Fundamental errors in plumbing installation will quickly destroy the viability of a system or hatchery, much to the detriment of the fish and organization involved. Thus, major plumbing issues are often resolved very early on in the life of facility or are avoided by good engineering and design. The effects of initial plumbing choices come into play as the facility ages. Staff and management working at the facility will inevitably identify changes, upgrades or replacement that need to be made to improve operations and viability. The plumbing choices from the initial build, the inherited plumbing, must be worked with or replaced.

This scenario of working with inherited plumbing comes into play on a large scale when a facility is sold or acquired by a new company. Companies that purchase, modernize, or repurpose old facilities, often run into confounding and expensive issues adapting old plumbing choices to their needs. The new company decides to update the technology, change species (thereby changing the operational needs), or otherwise install improvements, and finds that to do so, there is a large and unexpected expense for plumbing associated with the project, and/or the large parts of the facility must be shut down because there is no way to bypass or isolate the area of concern from the larger system.

Inherited problems
Inherited plumbing problems can transform what was planned out to be a simple job into an expensive headache. Aging pipes can be a risk of failure at points where the pipe or fittings may have weakened. Water hammer, exposure to UV, strain from bending, age, and a variety of other factors combine to expose weak points over time. Proper inspection of the plumbing can identify points of failure precipitated by cracks and pin hole leaks. 


In many cases the integrity of old piping is sound, but a myriad of other problems come with inherited plumbing. More likely to fail than the piping are old valves that fail to open or close fully from wear and fouling. Antiquated plumbing fixtures or a lack of fixtures can be a huge headache. Some systems are plumbed such that there are no bypasses, in some cases no shut-off valves for certain sections. This means, large portions of the system may have to be emptied and turned off to service one system or tank. Work in one area becomes a major interruption for a larger area. Antiquated plumbing material choices or engineering can also cause major headaches as project managers must decide how and where to attach modern plumbing to “creative” antiquated plumbing and at what cost. 

Installing plumbing in hard-to-access or hard-to-reach areas is necessary and often frustrating. Repairing or working on hard-to-reach plumbing is much more frustration because the plumbing needs to be cut off, changed/replaced, and fastened into placed, without proper access. Many facilities have concrete systems, such as troughs and raceways, older facilities are generally heavy on concrete use. Supply pipes and drainpipes are often found encased in concrete or running under a concrete floor. Concrete offers much protection to the pipes and gets them out of the way, eliminating their footprint. Plumbing decisions placed in or under concrete are, however, literally set in stone. Any changes or repairs that need to happen to the pipes begins with a jackhammer and ends with pouring concrete.

New systems to old
When building a new system or new sections onto an old system, keep future repairs in mind and expect that staff will need to access the plumbing at some point. Add as many valves and bypasses to the inherited and new plumbing, as is practical and financially reasonable, to be able to isolate different systems such as tanks and filters. Bypasses allow water to be diverted around a system like a filter so water can be drained from the filter allowing maintenance or repairs performed without interrupting the water flow downstream of the filter. If an old system like a filter is being replaced, build a bypass into the plumbing to allow the filter to be isolated. 

Extra ports are always a good idea when installing water lines into a new area. A tee-fitting near the pump or water source with a valve closed valve often comes in handy down the road as a great port to hook up a new idea, without having to cut something new into the line or stop the water.

When doing maintenance or making changes on systems that have to be shut down and the water turned off, do as much as possible to improve and repair the system during the shutdown event. Make all the repairs and maintenance necessary as well as add valves and bypasses. When removing or working with inherited plumbing assess its viability and integrity and, where feasible, remove everything that has failed or is suspect and replace it with new easier to work with and better to access materials. Downtime has significant financial cost; thus, the time must be used to maximum effect.

Exposed plumbing is always nicer for technicians and for flexibility, but under concrete is the right way for some builds and systems. Strategically choosing how much concrete to use and utilizing plumbing trenches with grating can increase flexibility and access while also maintaining protection and reducing plumbing exposure. Anything that is to be run through concrete or underground, should be carefully managed to ensure it is designed and installed right the first time because changes and corrections start with a lot of jackhammering.

Carefully managing and assessing old plumbing is the key to utilizing what exists and adding new systems. Deciding what to keep, what and where to add new plumbing is essential to a successful project, as well as to maintain the viability and integrity of the system long term. 

Print this page


Stories continue below