Bloomington utilities to study pace of water main replacement: Is 2.5 miles of pipe a year enough?

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.

Kelson said as a part of the rate case, CBU would be evaluating whether the 2.5 miles of pipe a year is aggressive enough. Continue reading “Bloomington utilities to study pace of water main replacement: Is 2.5 miles of pipe a year enough?”

Bloomington utilities hopes to report on water main breaks by late August

On Monday evening, a water main broke at 6th Street and College Avenue, on the northwest side of the courthouse square in downtown Bloomington.

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Looking west down the hill of 6th Street from College Street. July 29, 2019. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

For the month of July, that brought the number of breaks citywide  to an even dozen, matching the total for June.

The City of Bloomington’s Utility Department hopes to have a report on water main breaks ready for presentation to the city council by Aug. 21, according to public affairs specialist Holly McLauchlin.

Added to the 44 breaks through June, the 12 in July make 56 water main breaks so far in 2019, with five months left on the calendar. That means through July, Bloomington has seen at least 20 more breaks, in the same seven-month period, than for any of the previous six years. Continue reading “Bloomington utilities hopes to report on water main breaks by late August”

2019 on pace to be a big year for Bloomington water main breaks

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.

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The broken water main from the intersection of Kirkwood Avenue and Washington Street  lay on the pavement Monday morning. July 22, 2019 (Dave Askins/Beacon)

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.

A dramatic water main break last Sunday, at the busy four-way stop at Kirkwood Avenue and Washington Street downtown, put Bloomington’s drinking water pipes in the news. Continue reading “2019 on pace to be a big year for Bloomington water main breaks”

Sunday night water main break could mean Monday morning motorists should steer clear of Kirkwood and Washington

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.

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The view south down Washington Street at Kirkwood just before 8 p.m. on July 21, 2019 (Dave Askins/Beacon)

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.

Eddie Balkey, a downtown Bloomington resident, told The Beacon he was driving west on Kirkwood. As he arrived at the intersection with Washington, a three-way stop, the street erupted. Water was initially gushing maybe six to seven feet in the air, he said. The geyser had maybe an eight- to nine-foot diameter. Balkey said he backed up until he could get turned around to take a different route home. Continue reading “Sunday night water main break could mean Monday morning motorists should steer clear of Kirkwood and Washington”