Councilmember Andy Ruff at the Aug. 20, 2019 departmental budget hearings (Dave Askins/Beacon)
Utilities director Vic Kelson at the Aug. 20, 2019 departmental budget hearings (Dave Askins/Beacon)
On Tuesday night, Bloomington’s utilities director Vic Kelson presented the city council with a proposed $1.7 million for water main replacement as part of the department’s 2020 budget. He described how that would pay to replace roughly 2.5 miles of pipe.
During the time for councilmember questions, Isabel Piedmont-Smith responded to the 2.5-mile figure by saying, “That does sound like very little.” Piedmont-Smith’s assessment was based on the roughly 420 miles of pipe in the system, and the frequency of recent high profile water main breaks.
At a press briefing on the Friday before the week of budget hearings, Mayor John Hamilton said the pace of water main replacement was not fast enough, because pipes don’t last as long as it will take to replace them all—if the current pace of replacement is maintained. About the 2.5 miles per year that has been budgeted for the last few years, Hamilton said, “That’s way better than it was five years ago, but is not good enough.”
At Tuesday’s city council session, utilities director Vic Kelson put the possibility of increasing the pace of water main replacement in the context of a possible rate increase. The current residential rate for City of Bloomington Utilities (CBU) is $3.73 per 1,000 gallons with a monthly $5.89 charge for a 5/8-inch meter. Any proposal for an increase in water rates has to be presented to the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission. Bloomington’s rate case to the IURC is planned for 2020.
Not counting any of the half dozen water main breaks in July, the city of Bloomington has tallied 44 breaks so far in 2019.
Is that a big number? Yes, based on the number of breaks over the last six years that are logged in the dataset posted on the city’s B-Clear data portal.
The 44 breaks in 2019 so far, through the first six months of the year, are at least 12 more breaks (37 percent more) than in the first half of any of the last six years. So this year looks like it could be on course to match or exceed the 88 breaks tallied in 2016, which is the biggest number for a whole year since 2013.
Causes for breaks recorded in the dataset include ground movement, defect in the pipe, improper bedding, a contractor, temperature changes, and water hammer, among others. Water hammer is a sudden increase in pressure caused when the momentum of all the water flowing in a pipe is brought to a sudden stop.
Update 8:08 a.m. Monday, July 22: The intersection of Kirkwood Avenue and Washington Street won’t be open for a couple of days. As of 7:30 a.m. on Monday, the drinking water main was reconnected, but a stormwater pipe still needed to be reconnected and a manhole needed to be nudged back into place or reset, according to Holly McLauchlin, public affairs specialist, who spoke with The Beacon at the scene. The city’s director of utilities, Vic Kelson, told The Beacon Monday morning the whole intersection would need to be cut out, because the escaping water from the break had undermined a substantial area around the break. He estimated it would take two or three days before the intersection is open again to traffic.
Sometime before 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, a water main broke in the middle at the intersection of Kirkwood Avenue and Washington Street in downtown Bloomington and brought traffic to a stop. By 8 p.m. Bloomington police had closed off both streets for a block in each direction, and cordoned off the intersection itself with police tape.
The city of Bloomington’s utilities director, Vic Kelson, was on the scene around 8:30 p.m. He told The Beacon the break would take at least eight hours to repair after the water was turned off. Just before 9 p.m. a crew was working with long T-handled wrenches to turn the valves. Kelson did not think new asphalt would be laid down by the end of the night.