WATER_DEPT05.jpgBILL GAITHER/The Register-Mail

Jim Johnson, water plant supervisor, stands on a catwalk above water filters at the Galesburg Water Department. Discoloration on the top of this filter is the result of rust, iron and welded patches where holes once existed.

Chlorine contributes to pipe wear

Filtration at source could help system

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Larry Shaw Real Estate

Sunday, June 25, 2006

GALESBURG - The American Society of Civil Engineers recently published its 2005 report card on the nation's infrastructure. Galesburg's water system is much like others across the United States. The ASCE gave drinking water systems a grade of D-minus.

According to the 2006-2025 Long-Range Plans for the Operation and Capital Needs of the Galesburg Water Division, "The nation's 54,000 water systems face a shortfall of $11 billion annually to replace aging facilities that are at the end of their useful life. Galesburg's water system, while not in imminent danger, is in need of several upgrades and replacements like many other systems throughout the nation."

The long-range plan calls for $20.6 million to be spent in 2008, with a projected total, in today's dollars, of $56.5 million through 2025.

How it works

To understand what needs to be repaired and why, it is first necessary to have a basic understanding of how Galesburg's water system works, as well as why maintenance was not kept up over the years.

There are two distinct opinions as to just how bad the condition of the system is among those who should know. Although Public Works Director Larry Cox and outgoing Water Superintendent Kris Hatfield are in agreement, in general, on a number of items, Hatfield definitely sees bigger problems.

Asked why maintenance was not kept up over the 50 years since the pipeline was built, Cox said the reason is the same as in most communities.

"I think typically in any water system a lot of things are buried," Cox said. "Out of sight, out of mind."

Cox said the operators of water systems, looking at the repair and rebuilding bills they are facing, are coming to the realization things have to change. He used Galesburg's PAVER program for its streets as an example of where water systems are headed. The PAVER program looks at the life cycles of streets and sets up a regular maintenance program.

"The water industry is just now getting into the same thing," Cox said.

The city uses a single pre-stressed concrete transmission line to bring the raw water from Oquawka, on the shore of the Mississippi, to the water treatment plant in Galesburg. The line varies from 36-inch diameter (25.3 miles) to 42-inch diameter (5.2 miles). According to the city of Galesburg's November 2005 Water Division Planning Study, "the entire pipeline is always full of water and pressurized by raw water pumps during normal operations."

The raw water is chlorinated in Oquawka but not filtered. This is the water Galesburg sells to Little York, Yorkwood School District and about 20 farmers along the length of the pipeline. The filters are in Galesburg.

There have been about 30 breaks in the pipeline over the past 12 years, the majority along a 3- to 4-mile span on top of a hill, about 10 miles from the Oquawka raw water well pump site. When breaks are discovered, steel is welded onto the pipeline to make the repair.

Cox and City Engineer Wayne Carl agree with the study's characterization of the breaks as "pinhole" size. But Hatfield, who is leaving to take a job in Muscatine, Iowa, says some breaks are the size of softballs and Jon Vanier, a union rep for the Plumbers and Pipefitters, says some are the size of a man's fist.

The concrete pipe is reinforced with steel and has a steel liner treated with a concrete/mortar mixture. Cox said the line is designed to handle different water pressure at different sections. He said pressure is highest at Oquawka, then lessens as it goes uphill.

The pipeline was designed to have a life of 100 years, so why are so many problems developing now?

"Since we put a lot of chlorine in the water, that chlorine mixes with the water and the iron and magnesium drops out of the water," Cox said. The chlorine also mixes with air, which causes further stress on the pipe.

"All of the holes have been at the joints and the top," Cox said. "We think that's because the air is trapped at the top of the pipeline. ... The solution is either put less chlorine in or you get the air out."

Adding air release valves could be one solution, Cox said.

He said moving the filters from Galesburg to Oquawka also is being considered, which would remove the iron and magnesium from the pipeline at the source, meaning much less chlorine would be necessary.

"If that's not feasible, we could put a portion in at the river and add a chlorination facility in Galesburg and finish the process here," Cox said.

Ranney collector

Hatfield points to other problems. He and Cox agree the 5-million-gallon reservoir in Galesburg is in bad shape, with a number of cracks. The Water Division's capital schedule has $3 million earmarked for a new reservoir in 2008.

"We're looking at replacing it with a 7-million-gallon reservoir," Cox said. "We haven't decided for sure yet."

Also in serious need of work is the Ranney collector at Oquawka. Cox said the Ranney collector goes into the ground much like the gravel pack, vertical wells, but the Ranney "has horizontal laterals that go out and then it draws water from ... maybe a 200-foot radius, rather than a 20-foot radius."

There is $800,000 in the capital schedule for rehabilitation of the collector well in 2007.

"That will soon go out for bids," Cox said. "We hope that will get our existing Ranney up to what it was when it was brand new."

The rehab work will include cleaning the eight or nine existing laterals, with the addition of four new laterals with stainless steel screens, Cox said.

The City Council on June 5 approved a contract with Hutchison Engineering to provide Phase III construction engineering for the Ranney collector rehab project.

'Recipe for disaster'

Another stress on the pipeline is the monthly "surge," which sends water through the pipeline once a month to get rid of the iron. This would no longer be needed if the filters are moved to Oquawka.

"When you surge it, you have higher pressure," Cox said.

Carl said if the pressure release valves in the system worked, they don't, it would save wear and tear on the pipeline. That would be true even if the valves are just rehabbed, he said.

The capital program has $100,000 listed for 2007 for the valve program.

The surge is one of Hatfield's greatest worries.

"It's a tremendous amount of energy and that pipe is just jumping and rumbling and the joints are the weakest link," he said. "That's the recipe for disaster."

Hatfield and Cox agree work has to be done before a proposal to sell water to Galva and other communities along U.S. 34 can move forward, and that if the pipeline ever goes down, it will have serious consequences.

But Alderman Wayne Allen, Ward 6, says Hatfield's outlook is slanted.

"He gave a gloom-and-doom story," Allen said. "That is not correct. ... First of all, the city of Galesburg, the council, the administration, would never let the water supply get in the dilapidated situation he stated."

Hatfield knows some people may think he is just a disgruntled employee, because he is leaving.

"I'm not blaming anyone," he said. "I'm just saying this is the reality. This is what I inherited. ... I'm not saying the people before me didn't care, I just think their approach wasn't adequate."

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