By Jack Schenck
Water. We want it. We gotta have it. We get ours from the Floridan Aquifer. The City of Lake Butler pumps the water from the aquifer to the 200,000 gallon storage tank on the ground near the water tower. The water is pumped through an aerator on top of the storage tank, through the pumping station in the building between the ground tank and tower where it is chlorinated. The water is then pumped to the tower, from where the water forced by gravity to your faucet. The height of the tower is what provides the pressure at your home. Parts of the system of pipes delivering the water from the tower to your house are over 100 years old, depending on where you live or work in town. The existing water tower was erected in 1964, 57 years ago.
The first known water distribution pipes in Lake Butler were a style that was riveted steel, then a type called steel lock bar, and in the 1930’s welded and galvanized steel with a service life of 20 to 50 years. In 1929, a new type of pipe called Transite, also known as Asbestos-cement (AC), with a service life of 70 years, was introduced and while still in use in Lake Butler, the year first used is unknown. PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pipe was introduced in the U.S. in 1949, with a service life of up to 110 years. While the first date used here is unknown, it remains in use for installation of new main water lines. The newest material introduced for water supply lines is called PEX (cross-linked polyethylene), which you may have noticed in a few locations being used when the new water meters were being installed because as used here, it is blue.
As can be imagined, the first water supply lines to present issues are the steel which account for the majority of water leaks discovered in town. Second are the Transite pipes, a material which is very brittle to begin with and undergoes gradual degradation due to calcium in the drinking water leaching into the pipe as well as ground water leaching which leads to pipe softening and loss of strength. PVC seems the most durable with our system failures being attributed to joint failures and other utility installations damaging our pipes as recently occurred.
There are at least 126,720 feet of water supply lines in our right of ways, 8, 6, 4, 2 and 1 ½ inch.
Another component of our water system is valves, of which there are 259 known. The service life of a water valve is 20 years. From time to time, efforts are made by public works personnel to effect repairs to leaking water lines while the lines are still under pressure. This usually occurs because efforts to isolate the water break fail with water valves being frozen open from not being exercised over the years or the valve stem spins freely, most likely because previous attempts to close them resulted in the valve stem being broken. Recently, when 6 and 8 inch mains were penetrated by Comcast contractors and when a truck parked on a valve buried on the right of way, there was no choice but to drain the water tower because of the enormous pressure and water volume making it impossible to effect a repair. Additionally, there are at least 103 fire hydrants on the water system with a 50 year service life; however, many exceed that time by up to 50 more years.
Historically, maintenance on our water system has been reactive with a philosophy of, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Public Works Department has recently developed an asset management plan which schedules the replacement of water valves and hydrants that are either defective or have exceeded their service life. Some valves and hydrants have already been replaced and we are going to be more aggressive in pursuing that goal as funds permit. A 6 inch water valve costs approximately $621 while a hydrant is currently $1,818, plus labor and inevitable costs of additional fittings and pipe needing replaced at the point of repair or replacement. The plan is to strategically replace valves throughout town so that in the future, the entire town will not be effected and as time goes by, fewer and fewer will suffer water shutdowns when valve or hydrant replacements occur or water mains are breached. Our Public Works Department consists of six employees that are responsible for the parks, right of ways and infrastructure. This team works tirelessly to keep up with all of the needs of the city in addition to having to take time to make repairs whenever a water line is breached, as has occurred recently with the Comcast contractors, as well as when an older line fails. In working to make these scheduled shutdowns to replace the older lines and valves, they are making the effort to minimize the impact to the citizens by creating a water grid that can be better managed whenever an incident occurs.
On Thursday, September 23, 2021, several valves are going to be replaced at the intersection of SW 1st Street and SW 9th Avenue, and a 30 foot section of defective water line under SW 9th Avenue. Water will be turned off at 10:30 PM and will be restored by 5:00AM, September 24th.
Eventually, the City will pursue grants to revitalize our water system just as we have our wastewater system and in conjunction with our asset management plan will make our utilities sustainable far into the future.