The Avon Lake Municipal Utilities (ALMU) is having a busy summer handling calls about basement flooding after heavy rains, sewer separation projects, a pipe bursting project and a new lawsuit. Add to that list an increasing number of breaking waterlines around the city.
The city has experienced more than 40 line breaks this year, with at least 18 in July alone, up from eight in July 2010.
ALMU Chief Utilities Executive Todd Danielson said utility employees are trying to figure out the cause of all these line breaks. One factor is likely pipe age, he said, with many of the waterlines installed during the 1940s, and some even earlier, such as the Lake Road line, which predates World War II. The Lake Road line performed well over the years, he said, until Tuesday night, when it experienced two breaks and a third one nearby. The coating on the pipes resists decay, but construction in the area could damage the coating, leading to corrosion issues.
“Fourteen in one month is certainly a high number for us,” Danielson said. “It’s not out of line for other areas, but it’s high for us. It’s not something we want to continue.”
Typically, most of the breaks occur in the first six months of the year during cold snaps when there isn’t much snow, he said. Last year, however, ALMU repaired 45 breaks in the last six months of 2010, compared to only 19 in the first six. There is some research now about how extremely hot and dry weather can cause waterline breaks underground, he said. It’s a new line of logic people are trying to grasp, he said, but he’s not had a chance to review it yet.
“There’s a heck of a lot of usage in the summer,” he said, adding that could mean large swings in demand. “Pressure fluctuations could cause a rupture in a weakened pipe.”
ALMU keeps a running tally of individual streets where the breaks occur, he said, which helps it determine which streets are due for a full replacement. The utility is working to become more proactive instead of reactive, he said, because every break affects customers.
Residents don’t have to worry about contaminants in the waterlines if a break occurs, he assured. Water runs under high pressure in the lines, up to about 80 pounds of pressure, and when a break happens, the water comes out with some force, which doesn’t allow anything to enter the pipe. When fixing a break, utility workers either remove a section of the pipe or put a sleeve on it. If they remove a section of the pipe, he said, they disinfect that line and run water through it to make sure clean water is flowing through it before the workers open it up where it can reach customers.
Because of the age of the pipes, ALMU will replace old waterlines as part of its capital improvements plan. The water rate increase, the first phase of which went into effect July 1, is partially intended to replace the lines. ALMU will replace the waterline on Belmar Boulevard this summer, which requires about 3,600 feet of pipe. Walker Road, from SR 83 to Lear Road at 8,400 feet, is scheduled for next year.
Though he has not run the numbers for the overall cost of the breaks, Danielson said they cost “a lot of money.” It’s a balancing game, as it costs more to replace a complete line. When lines break more often, it’s time to replace it.
“It comes down to several factors we need to weigh,” he said. “Money is the obvious one, and residents and inconvenience are another, from being out of water or construction. Tearing up roads and front yards also affects them. We’re balancing those concerns in parallel with the actual cost aspect.”
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