City: Miles of weathered water lines pose perpetual problems [Sun Journal, New Bern, N.C.]By Eddie Fitzgerald, Sun Journal, New Bern, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
July 12--Chris Tillman stood in a deep hole filled with water on George Street this week, leaning on a shovel and looking resigned to the inevitable as he waited for help.
"It happens a lot," he said as the water bubbled next to him from a broken main under the street.
Tillman, a member of New Bern's water department crew, said they were making an irrigation tap into the water main running under the street beside the Craven County Senior Center when the pipe crumbled.
"Some of these pipes are so old it happens," he said.
Soon a truck pulled up and another city worker stuck a large pipe in the water that pumped it out of the hole and into a 1,000-gallon tank on the truck.
Jordon Hughes, city engineer, said it is a constant struggle keeping up with leaks in the city's 338 miles of water mains.
"We've got all the water lines in New Bern on a map on the wall of our operations building and it shows the first water systems in New Bern date from 1890," Hughes said. "Some are still active and in use today. That gives you an idea of the infrastructure in the ground."
Although only a small portion of the current water system dates back to the 1890s, many were installed from the 1950-1970s, lasting beyond their expected life span, Hughes said. The same type of water pipes are no longer even manufactured, he said.
"Right now we have a pretty good maintenance program," he said. "We try to get around to replacing as much as we can in-house each year."
The city has a long list of water main sections that need replacing this year, Hughes said.
"The list never ends," he said. "Sometimes they just bust. They get to the point they can't take any more and just break."
But a lot of the leaks occur because the old, in many cases deteriorating, galvanized pipes lay underground for 20 or 30 years and the ground is packed tight enough around them to hold them together with pressure. When work needs to be done in one area, disturbing that packed soil might cause another leak to occur farther down the water line, Hughes said.
"A lot of times we are just chasing leaks," he said.
Eddie Fitzgerald can be reached at 252-635-5675 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @staffwriter3.
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