Utility Distribution Systems

Utility distribution systems distribute steam, chilled water, electricity, telecommunications, natural gas, compressed air, and domestic water throughout campus. These systems are interconnected in a manner so they can be maintained with minimal impact to building operations.



Steam leaves the power plant and is distributed throughout campus for heating, hot water production and for research processes.

The campus has nearly five miles of steam tunnels that contain the steam and condensate piping to and from the campus buildings. The steam tunnels allow utility staff to access the piping for maintenance. There is also approximately one mile of direct buried steam line, primarily located on the southeast portion of campus serving the Richardson Court Association residence hall area and the Iowa State Center. Steam is not available north of the Union Pacific railroad, therefore natural gas is used to heat the Fredrickson Court apartments and the buildings west of Stange Road.

Steam condenses to water when it leaves the building systems. This water, or condensate, is returned to the power plant, using condensate piping in the steam tunnels. The power plant pumps the condensate back to the boilers to be made into steam again.

Chilled Water

Chilled water is distributed at 42 degrees F to more than 80 buildings from the Power Plant and the North Chiller Water Plant to provide the cooling for campus. The chilled water distribution system includes more than 6 miles of are direct-buried, ductile iron pipes up to 30 inches in diameter. At each building the chilled water flows through air handling units and fan coil units to provide cooling. The water returns to the chillers at up to 55 degrees F, where it is cooled again and re-used.

Electric Power

Electricity is either produced by the generators at the Power Plant or is purchased from the wholesale market from the electric grid. The electricity is distributed to campus through an underground distribution system consisting of electrical manholes, medium voltage switches, and more than 25 miles of medium voltage cables. The cables are installed in steel conduits encased in concrete duct banks.

The electricity is distributed to nine substations or distribution points around the campus. The substations include transformers and/or switchgear to reduce voltage and distribute electricity to individual buildings. Electricity is supplied to the buildings at either 13,800 volts or 4,160 volts. Each building has a transformer or set of transformers to reduce the voltage down to 480, 208, and/or 120 volts for use in the building. There are over 500 building transformers located throughout the campus.

Natural Gas / Compressed Air

Natural Gas

Utilities Services operates and maintains a natural gas distribution system on central campus. Gas is distributed at 55 pounds pressure through a network of more than 4.5 miles of polyethylene pipe. On central campus, natural gas primarily is used for cooking, laboratory needs, and for emergency electrical generators. North of the Union Pacific Railroad natural gas is used for heating university facilities including the Fredrickson Court apartments and the university buildings west of Stange Road.

Compressed Air

The steam tunnel system also is used to distribute compressed air from the Power Plant at 90 pounds pressure. This distribution system has about 3.5 miles of copper pipe. Compressed air is used primarily for pneumatic building controls and for laboratory needs.

Water & Sewer Systems

Domestic Water

Iowa State University owns and operates its own water distribution system for the main campus, Iowa State Center, Stadium Complex and the Veterinary Medicine campus. Other university facilities are served directly from the City of Ames Water Plant. The domestic water system is also used for fire protection for the campus buildings. The domestic water system contains more than 8 miles of direct-buried ductile iron and PVC piping.

All water is produced by the City of Ames Water Plant and is delivered to the campus. Iowa State University collaborates with the City of Ames and shares in the cost to operate, maintain and improve the City of Ames Water Plant to support the drinking water needs of the City of Ames and Iowa State University. Operating a public water supply requires ongoing testing to ensure a safe drinking water supply. Utility staff routinely obtain water samples to test for lead, copper and other contaminants.

View Latest Water Testing Reports

Non-Potable Water

Iowa State University also uses non-potable water for applications that do not require drinking quality water. The university has two wells located near the power plant and one well near Lake Laverne to provide non-potable water. The primary use of non-potable water is at the power plant as a makeup water source for the cooling tower. The university uses non-potable water for irrigation at Veenker Memorial Golf Course and as a water supply to Lake Laverne to maintain water quality in the lake.

Storm Sewers

Utility Services operates and maintains a storm water collection system for the campus. This system includes more than 25 miles of piping to collect storm water runoff throughout campus. The system discharges storm water to Squaw Creek and College Creek.

Sanitary Sewers

Utility Services operates and maintains a sanitary sewer collection system. This system contains more than 10 miles of piping that discharge to the City of Ames sanitary sewer system. The sewage directed to the City of Ames Wastewater Treatment Plant, located south of Ames along Interstate 35. The City of Ames and university jointly share in cost to operate and maintain the Wastewater Treatment Plant.


Telecommunication Cables

Iowa State University owns and operates a telecommunication system on campus for voice and data transmission. An underground network of more than 90 miles of fiber optic, copper and coaxial cables these services to all campus buildings. The telecommunications system is operated and maintained by the Information Technology Services Department on campus.