Water main breaks frustrate Fifth Ward residents

Saturday, May 22, 2010 | 5:23 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Multiple water main breaks along Scott Boulevard have forced Columbia Water and Light to issue several boil orders affecting residents of Thornbrook, Mill Creek, Magnolia Falls and Wyndham Ridge subdivisions.

“People get very frustrated because it’s an ongoing issue,” said Laura Nauser, Fifth Ward Councilwoman and Thornbrook resident. “This isn’t something that has happened once, but it’s happened five times in the past two years. It’s become a hot topic."

Nauser said the continual breaking of the main, rather than the service from Water and Light, is cause for complaint. She said people are most frustrated with the boil orders, which usually take 48 hours to clear.  

“We don’t realize how much we depend on things until they’re gone,” Nauser said. “We turn on the faucet, we expect water.”  

The city notified people of the breaks with signs around the neighborhood, fliers on front doors and announcements in the media. Terri Stanley, a Thornbrook resident, said these methods make it hard for her to plan because she does not find out about a break until coming home.

Nauser said the utilities department leaves phone messages when the water comes back on and could do so when the water main breaks.  

Thornbrook resident Susan Scott did not know the cause of the breaks.  

“It makes me wonder if there’s something faulty with the lines that were initially made or if the design was poor,” Scott said. “It’s a little intriguing that it’s isolated to this part of town.”

Connie Kacprowicz, utility service specialist and Water and Light spokesperson, explained how water mains in newer subdivisions on the edge of town, such as Thornbrook, are fed in only one direction. Without interconnections in the water distribution system, water cannot be fed from another route. Breaks in this kind of water main can cause water pressure to drop significantly. When this occurs, the Department of Natural Resources follows EPA regulations and calls for a precautionary boil order.

“You don’t see as many precautionary boil orders in the central part of town because it’s all interconnected,” Kacprowicz said. “So you can isolate the break and serve water quickly from another area.”  

These subdivisions currently receive water from a single 16-inch main, or a radial feed. Kacprowicz said workers installed the water line with the assumption Scott Boulevard might be widened. Workers buried the line deeper so it would be out of the way during any future excavation. Certain parts of the line rest on bedrock.

“If soil shifts and the water main is resting on rock, it’s more susceptible to breaking,” Kacprowicz said.

According to a report to the City Council, Water and Light has proposed installing a second 8-inch water main on Old Mill Creek Road to increase water supply to this area and help prevent total loss of water supply if the main fails again.  

“An 8-inch line in Mill Creek Manor has been budgeted,” Kacprowicz said. “If they decided to bump that up to a 12-inch line or add more valves, then that money would have to be allocated for the project."

According to the report, the cost of the 8-inch addition is not expected to exceed $35,000. Upsizing the water main to a 12-inch line would cost $75,000. Creating a new 16-inch ductile iron water main would cost $650,000, plus the cost of extra rock excavation.

Nauser favored upsizing the line.  

“It makes more financial sense to do it now rather than go out and retrofit later,” she said.

The City Council will make the final decision.  

“It’s not up to me to make the decisions,” Kacprowicz said. “You have to balance reliability with the cost."

Despite all of the frustrations, Scott remains positive.  

“Bad things are going to happen,” she said. “If we can learn from them and make them better for if they do happen again in the future, that’s when you get a positive outcome.”

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