Oak Creek improves old water system pipe by pipe
Oak Creek — Even before Bob Redding saw the water gush out around the fire hydrant at Arthur and Williams streets in Oak Creek, the public works director knew there was a problem.
A worker at the water plant saw the level of the water in the tank drop precipitously, and alarms started sounding as the water level neared 20 percent. The tank holds 200,000 gallons, and it was nearly full when the leak started.
When Redding got the call, he started to head to his car to drive to town and find the source of the leak, but before he could get out the door, a resident walked into the building and told him the water was surging around the hydrant.
Monday’s incident was the latest in a series of challenges town workers have faced stemming from aging infrastructure. The town is working to repair the issues piece by piece, and several projects have been completed or are in planning stages, while others have stalled because of a lack of funding.
Redding called workers to the site, but even after identifying that the leak probably came from the lateral pipe connecting the main line and the hydrant — a section of pipe that is rarely used and is prone to freezing — the solid frozen ground proved to be a challenge.
Redding said the workers started looking for the main valves on either end of the street to shut off the water, but it took about three hours to reach each of the valves, even though they were only about six feet underground. When they got to the bottom of the leak, the workers found that four of the six bolts holding a valve together had rusted off and that the valve had opened like a clamshell.
Before the leak was repaired, about 200,000 gallons of water gushed out, Redding estimates. The tank didn’t empty because water continued to flow in as it leaked from the pipe.
“If that happens in the middle of the summer, you’re putting yourself at risk there. If that tank totally empties, the state comes in and they make you do a total chlorine wash on the system,” Redding said. “It really gets ugly if you totally empty out.”
That scare underscores the town’s need for a new water tank. The town is in talks to buy a water tank with a $400,000 state community development grant, but it still falls about $100,000 short of the amount required to buy the 240,000-gallon tank it wants.
To cover the shortfall, the town, with engineering firm Nolte Associates, is looking into other grants and discounts.
Will Koger, with Nolte Associates, said the town was considering buying a used water tank from Lakewood but scrapped the idea when the cost turned out to be as much as that of a new tank.
Redding said having another tank would reduce the load on the water treatment plant so it is not required to run at full capacity all the time.
“That’s why we need another storage tank, so during off-peak hours, we can fill that storage and not make that plant run and run and run,” he said. “It’s so hard on it. Last summer, the plant broke down because it just didn’t get a rest.”
Sewer plant extension
The new storage plant is one of three major projects Oak Creek has completed or is working on to improve its water system. The town also upgraded sewer lines and is building a wastewater treatment plant on the edge of town, which is scheduled for completion this year.
At a Town Board meeting Thursday, representatives from the construction and engineering firm asked the town to consider allowing delays in the process as the firms struggle to work during the winter.
Joe Backurz, representing Duckels Construction, told the board it would be best for the construction firm to extend the work schedule by 90 days and not stop work. The firm has the right in the contract to stop work for as many as 90 days because of bad weather, but he said it would be preferable for the workers to continue, albeit at a slower pace, through the winter.
That change would cost the town additional money for engineering, but Duckels agreed to pay part of the fee, reducing the cost to the town to a total of $15,000. Town Board members said they would consider the extended schedule but wanted to first confer with a representative of the United States Department of Agriculture to ensure that the USDA grant the town received would not be jeopardized by the change in contract.
The change would move the completion date from August to November.
Oak Creek’s aging infrastructure poses more problems for the town. One pipe that has no record in town history has proved especially problematic as water seeps from it into the town’s roadways.
Redding said he has searched the town’s paperwork and talked to former public works directors but cannot find where the pipe starts or why it was placed under the road.
He said judging by the writing on the pipe and the type of pipe used, it probably dates to the 1970s but that the public works director who was in charge at the time said he didn’t know anything about it.
“We don’t know if somebody came in and put it in on the weekend,” Redding said. He said it’s a perforated pipe that collects groundwater and was emptying into the town’s sewer pipes before it was diverted to a nearby creek.
Many private pipes also were laid in the early days of the town to divert groundwater that seeped up, he said, and still can surprise workers when they dig in many areas.
“There is so much water and (so many) lines throughout this town, you’ll get into horrible stuff,” Redding said. “Water used to run everywhere.”
As the town attempts to fix the old pipes, it also is eager to make modern improvements, such as installing water meters on each house, once funds are available.
But with the town’s history spread underneath the ground all across the valley, the workers will continue to fix problems as they arise and fix one piece of the system at a time.
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