Water you kidding? A 123-year-old main in downtown Bloomington gets replaced

cropped 2020-05-11 water main IMG_0414
On Monday morning, city of Bloomington Utilities (CBU) workers start the work of digging a trench in the middle of 6th Street, on the north segment of the courthouse square, for a water main replacement project. (Dave Askins/ Square Beacon)

Early Monday morning, city of Bloomington utilities (CBU) workers started work on the 6th Street segment of the downtown courthouse square. The project is to remove a water main from an alley and put a new one in the street to replace the old main’s service.

The 123-year-old pipe that’s being replaced is made of cast iron, public affairs specialist Holly McLauchlin said. That put to rest a speculation by The Square Beacon that the old pipe might be made of hollowed-out logs. Still, some wooden pipes from the Paris Dunning house project several years back had been saved by CBU, McLauchlin said.

The pipe dating from 1897 is the oldest one in the city, McLauchlin said. A press release issued later in the day said over 75 percent the city’s water mains are more than 50 years old.

The reason for the move from the alley to the road, McLauchlin said, was to put more distance between the new pipe and the surrounding buildings. When main breaks happen next to a building they’re are a bigger problem than when they happen under the road, she said.

Last year, water main breaks in Bloomington were at one point on pace to eclipse the highest number in the last years. But 2019 ended with a total of 85 breaks, 3 short of the total in 2015.

Water Main Breaks Bloomington 2013 through 2019

One of the 2020 budget goals presented to the Bloomington city council last fall by CBU director Vic Kelson was to invest $1.7 million in water main replacement and lining. That amount of money would pay to replace or repair about 2.5 miles of water mains in 2020, he said. The city’s water system has about 420 miles worth of pipe.

CBU is scheduled this year to pursue a rate case, that is, a request for a rate increase. According to McLauchlin, CBU is working with Crowe LLP on a cost-of-service study for drinking water. The study findings will be presented to the utilities service board (USB) this year, and any request for an increase will be put before Bloomington’s city council.

With approval from the city council, CBU would take the proposal to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission (IURC) for its approval. The IURC approval is something required just for drinking water rates, not sewer or stormwater services, McLauchlin said.

Monday’s work started by busting up a narrow strip of pavement in the middle of the street just north of the county courthouse.

The timing of the work, according to McLauchlin, was based on a public works alley activation project that’s scheduled for the summer. The alley project is one of projects being funded with bicentennial bonds.

At a board of park commissioners meeting in November 2018, public works director Adam Wason described the bond-funded downtown alley improvements project in a three-block area. The alley project involves “beautification, clean-up and lighting of the alleys, milling and paving for surface improvement, and activation of underused city assets by art installations, and the potential of creating some pedestrian only areas,” according to meeting minutes.

Photos: Water main replacement May 11, 2020

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