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1.9: Pumps

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    In this chapter, we will examine the pumps that move water throughout a water distribution system.

    Learning Outcomes

    After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

    • List the various types of pumps found in the water industry
    • Identify the various components of pumps
    • Differentiate the various purposes of pumps in the water industry

    Purpose of a Pump

    Without a pump, water would only flow through gravitational forces of gravity. This would be fine if the source of water was always higher than the user. However, we know that this is not the case. In addition to pumps being needed to deliver water to customers at varying elevations, pumps are used to “lift” water over mountains to deliver it to treatment plants. Pumps are used to “push” water through treatment systems and to “inject” chemicals into a stream of flowing water for treatment purposes. As you can see, there are a lot of purposes for pumps in the water industry. This chapter will present a variety of examples where pumps are used, the various types of pumps, and how they are used to keep water flowing in a distribution system. There are two main types of pumps, which are primarily used in the water industry; these are positive displacement and variable displacement pumps.

    Positive Displacement Pumps

    Positive displacement pumps “displace” liquid by mechanical action providing constant flow at a fixed speed, despite changes in pressure. There are two main types of positive displacement pumps: Rotary and Reciprocating. Positive displacement pumps move fluids by trapping a fixed amount and displacing (moving) the trapped volume into a vessel such as a pipe. A good example of a positive displacement pump used in the water industry is for chemical injection such as chlorine disinfection. Below is a picture of a positive displacement pump taking a liquid chemical from a container and pumping it into a pipe.

    Positive displacement pumps are commonly used for chemical injection because of their ability to operate against a variety of discharge pressures while maintaining a constant given speed. This enables a consistent chemical dosage. One of the main disadvantages of positive displacement pumps is that they do not have a shutoff head. Therefore, if a positive displacement pump operates against a closed valve it will cause the discharge line to burst and/or cause damage to the pump. Positive displacement pumps include gear, lobe, peristaltic, screw, piston, and rotary.

    Variable Displacement Pumps

    Variable displacement pumps deliver the same volume or flow of water against any head pressure within the operating capacity. Typical types are piston (reciprocating) pumps and screw or squeeze displacement (diaphragm) pumps. There are various types of variable displacement pumps and include; jet, turbine, and centrifugal. The most common in the water industry are turbine and centrifugal.

    Centrifugal Pumps

    Centrifugal pumps are some of the most common types of pumps used in the water industry. They convert rotational kinetic energy to hydrodynamic energy. Electric motors provide this rotational energy. Centrifugal pumps raise the water by a centrifugal force, which is created by a wheel referred to as an impeller. This impeller revolves inside a tight casing. Water enters the pump at the center of the impeller referred to as the eye. The impeller throws the water outward toward the inside wall of the casing by the centrifugal force resulting from the revolution of the impeller. Water then passes through the casing and emerges at the discharge point under pressure. There are two main types of centrifugal pump casings, volute and diffuser.

    • Volute casing – Volutes are designed to utilize the incoming velocity of the liquid entering the impeller and converting this velocity into pressure. The impeller is housed in a spiral-shaped case and located offset of the center of this casing. This allows pressure to build as the impeller spins counter-clockwise and the distance between the volute and the impeller increases gradually. These are typically single-stage designs and are used for large capacity and low head applications.
    Volute centrifugal pump casing
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Image is in the public domain

    The impeller of a centrifugal pump is either open, semi-open, or closed design. Open impellers are generally used to pump raw water. This is because raw water may carry with it some solids, which would damage the other impeller designs. Semi-open impellers can pump liquids with some solids, but not as much as the open design. Closed impellers generally pump finished treated waters and provide a controlled area to channel water through the impeller.

    • Diffuser casing – A typical diffuser casing has many vanes in order to build pressure at the point where the edge of the casing approaches the edge of the impeller. Diffuser designs are generally more compact compared to volute designs.

    There are five (5) distinct types of centrifugal pumps in the water industry: turbine (diffuser), volute, axial flow, radial flow, and mixed flow.

    • Turbine – These types of centrifugal pumps are most commonly used in well pump operations. The impeller is surrounded by diffuser vanes, which provide gradually enlarging passages in which the velocity of the water leaving the impeller is gradually reduced, thus transforming velocity head to pressure head. Turbine pumps often come in multiple stages. The stages are bolted together to form a pump bowl assembly. The function of each stage is to add pressure head. The volume lifted and efficiency is almost identical in each stage.
    Water turbine
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Image by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is in the public domain
    • Volute – These types of pumps were discussed earlier and are used in high flow and low-pressure installations and are commonly single-stage pumps. They are either close or long-coupled. Close-coupled pumps have the impeller mounted directly on the motor shaft. A long-coupled (or frame-mounted) has a pump with separate motor bearings and is connected to the motor by a coupling.
    • Axial Flow – These types of pumps are in-line and work on a vertical plane in relation to the water. Axial flow pumps offer very high flow rates and very low amounts of pressure head.
    • Radial Flow – This type of centrifugal pump discharges the fluid radially (at right angles to the pump shaft). Radial flow means the pump operates on a horizontal plane to the direction of flow.
    • Mixed Flow – A mixed flow pump is a cross between an axial flow and radial flow pump. The impeller sits within the pipe and turns, but the turning mechanism is essentially diagonal. The centrifugal force moves the water while accelerating from the axial direction for the impeller.

    Pump Components

    A pump is made up of a number of different components. The following list composes the main mechanical components of a centrifugal pump. Each item will be discussed.

    • Casing
    • Single-Suction Pumps
    • Double-Suction Pumps
    • Impeller
    • Wear Rings
    • Shaft
    • Shaft Sleeves
    • Packing Rings
    • Lantern Rings
    • Mechanical Seals
    • Bearings
    • Couplings

    Some of the components above have been previously discussed, so they will only be mentioned again briefly below.


    Pumps casings are designed to retain pressure and to seal off the inside of a pump to prevent leakage. In centrifugal pumps (as previously explained) the casing surrounds the pump rotor transmitting energy to the fluid by means of an impeller, which is mounted on a rotating shaft. In positive displacement pumps, the casing surrounds the rotary or reciprocating displacement elements.

    All casings have inlet and outlet nozzles, which direct the flow into and out of the pump. Inlet nozzles are referred to as suction nozzles and outlets are referred to as discharge nozzles.

    Single-Suction and Double Suction Pumps

    Many pumps used in the water industry are single-suction pumps. In single-suction pumps, water enters the impeller from one end and discharges across the casing. The fluid moves from the impeller center to the peripheral region of the pump. Another type of pump based on its suction is termed a double- suction pump. In a double-suction pump, the inlet water enters on both sides of the impeller. These are commonly referred to as a horizontal split-case pump. The casing is split into two halves along the centerline of the pump shaft.

    Single-suction pump
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Single-Suction Pump - Image by Kaze0010 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0


    Impellers are unique to centrifugal pumps. They rotate inside the pump casing transferring energy from the motor, which drives the pump to the fluid being pumped. The fluid is accelerated outwards from the center of the rotation. The open inlet portion of an impeller is often referred to as the “eye”. According to the Swiss mathematician and physicist Daniel Bernoulli, pump impellers rely on the principle that states an increase in fluid velocity is accompanied by a decrease in pressure or potential energy (and vice versa) in order to operate.

    Centrifugal Pump
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Image by Fantagu is in the public domain

    Wear Rings

    In order for impellers to rotate freely within a pump casing, a small clearance needs to be maintained between the casing and the impeller. To minimize damage to the rotating impeller, a set of wear rings are often attached to the impeller and/or the pump casing to allow this small clearance without causing wear to the impeller and casing. These wear rings are designed to wear and be replaced through proper maintenance.

    Shaft and Shaft Sleeves

    Impellers are mounted on a metal rod commonly made of a nickel alloy or stainless steel referred to as a shaft. Shafts transmit the rotating energy to the impeller. Shafts can be solid or hollow. Solid shafts are connected near the bottom end of a motor, while a hollow shaft extends through the motor shaft and is joined at the motor’s crest. Hollow shaft pump motors are most commonly used for deep groundwater wells. A special tool referred to as an arbor press (or gear puller) is required to remove the impeller from the shaft.

    A pump shaft sleeve is a hollow tube, typically made of metal and is placed over the shaft in order to protect it as it passes through the packing. These cylinder-shaped metal tubes are protecting the shaft from corrosion and wear and are designed to be replaced as needed.

    Packing Rings and Stuffing Box vs Mechanical Seals

    At the point where the shaft extends out of the pump casing, leakage can occur. In order to prevent or reduce the amount of leakage, packing rings or mechanical seals are used. Up to six rings can be used and need to be staggered 90 degrees apart beginning at “twelve o’clock”. The next ring is installed at “three o’clock” and so on. The packing rings are installed in an assembly called a stuffing box. Mechanical seals can be used instead of packing rings. They are more expensive, but typically last longer, allow minimal to no damage to shaft sleeves, and offer less maintenance. The main downside to mechanical seals is that when they fail, they fail suddenly and they are fairly difficult to replace. In contrast, packing rings require monitoring and adjustment, but are much easier to replace.

    Staggered packing rings
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\)

    The picture above is an example of how packing rings are staggered.

    Also placed in the stuffing box are lantern rings. They are designed to prevent air from entering the pump casing. Pump discharge water is fed into the ring and flows out of it through a series of holes leading to the shaft side of the packing. Water flows both towards the pump suction and away from the packing gland acting as a seal preventing air from entering the water stream and provides lubrication for the packing.


    Bearings within a casing (cage) of their own are used to allow the shaft to spin the impeller with minimal friction. The type of bearing used is dependent on the type and size of pump. Most pumps within the water industry have ball-type radial and thrust bearings. These are either grease or oil lubricated. One common feature among bearings is that they usually start to get noisy before they fail.


    When a pump is mounted on a frame, separate pump shafts are connected together by a coupling. The coupling transmits the rotary motion of the motor to the pump shaft. They are designed and installed to allow slight misalignment between the pump and the motor. This allows the shock from the motor start up to be absorbed. There are two types of couplings: flex and mechanical. The main difference between the two is that flex couplings are installed dry and require no lubrication and mechanical couplings require lubrication.

    Pump Operation

    Whenever there is machinery with moving parts, friction occurs causing noisy operation and the potential for the development of heat. Therefore, motor and pump temperature, vibration, noise, and other parameters should be monitored. There are various sensors that can be used, but the most efficient way to monitor for these things is direct observation. If the surface of a motor unit is substantially warmer than normal, it should be shut down. Experienced water utility operators commonly get to know the normal sound of pumps and motors as well. However, there are vibration detectors, special thermometers, temperature indicators, and various types of sensors can be installed to monitor these parameters. If the temperature, vibration, or some other factor being measured is out of a specified range, then alarms can sound or signals can be sent. In some instances these sensors can shut down these devices automatically.


    Pump speed is also another parameter to monitor. Speed switches or contacts can be provided to monitor and turned off pumps at certain times. Under certain speed conditions, when the pressure acting upon the water falls to or below the vapor pressure of the water, it will begin to vaporize. This will create vapor pockets. At higher pressures, the pockets collapse and a rumbling noise is created. This rumbling, popping, crackling noise is referred to as cavitation. Suction cavitation occurs when the net positive suction head available to the pump is less than what is required. Under these conditions, the pump sounds like it is pumping rocks. There will be high vacuum (suction) pressure readings will occur on the suction line and low discharge pressures with high flows on the discharge side. This can be caused by several things, which include, a clogged suction pipe, a suction pipe which is too long, a suction pipe diameter too small, suction lift too high, and a valve on the suction line only partially open. Discharge cavitation occurs when the pump discharge head is too high where the pump runs at or near shutoff. A similar sound to suction cavitation occurs, resulting in high discharge pressure readings and lower flows. Similar conditions cause discharge cavitation including, a clogged discharge pipe, a discharge pipe that is too long, or a diameter too small, the discharge static head is too high, or the discharge line valve is partially closed. In addition to the noise created by cavitation, pump impellers and bowl surfaces can become pitted. Fluctuations or reductions in yield can occur and erratic power consumption can also be a result of cavitation.

    Avoiding Cavitation

    In centrifugal and propeller pumps, cavitation can be avoided by preventing the following conditions:

    • Avoid heads much lower than the head at peak efficiency of the pump
    • Avoid capacity much higher than the capacity at peak efficiency of the pump
    • Avoid suction lifts higher or positive heads lower than recommended by the manufacturer
    • Avoid speeds higher than the manufacturer’s recommendations
    • Avoid liquid temperatures higher than that which the system was originally designed

    Pump design is an important process when selecting the correct pump for specific operational uses. Using various pump sizes is one way of controlling flow rates and preventing inefficient operations. Variable speed motors or pump drives are other ways to control flow. Discharge valves can also be throttled (partially closed), but this can lead to valve damage or inefficient operations. However, this process can be utilized in specific circumstances. Starting and stopping pumps too often can cause excessive wear and increases power costs. Variable speed motors are one solution to too many starts and stops of a motor. Daily operations, storage needs, and system pressures should all be evaluated in order to select the correct pump and motor.

    Pumps are one of the most important components of any water utility system. They bring water from deep underground to the surface and they distribute water throughout the distribution system. They are used in treatment plants to move water through the treatment process. In areas where the topography varies, pumps are used to lift water to these various elevations. Pumping water requires electricity and this creates a significant cost to water utilities. Water utilities greatest expense is quite often the cost of pumping water.

    Sample Questions

    1. Which of the following is a pump casing?
      1. Venturi
      2. Weir
      3. Volute
      4. All of the above
    2. Which of the following pumps is the most common pump in the water industry?
      1. Piston
      2. Turbine
      3. Positive displacement
      4. Centrifugal
    3. A negative aspect of mechanical seals is ___________.
      1. They fail suddenly
      2. They are difficult to adjust
      3. They don’t last long
      4. None of the above
    4. Lantern rings are designed to ___________.
      1. Provide a small amount of leakage to cool the pump
      2. Fail as the pump wears
      3. Prevent air from entering the pump casing
      4. None of the above
    5. Double suction pumps are commonly referred to as ___________.
      1. Centrifugal pumps
      2. Turbine pumps
      3. Dual split face
      4. Horizontal split case

    This page titled 1.9: Pumps is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Mike Alvord (ZTC Textbooks) .

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