Rural communities keep the water flowing
How does a small city handle routine water system maintenance? City Engineer and Public Works Director for the city of Kimberly Brian Reed said his city is always working on something.
“Most if not all small communities struggle with providing drinking water and sanitary services at an affordable price to its citizens,” explained Chief Executive Officer of the Idaho Rural Water Association Shelley Roberts. “The primary impacts include aging infrastructure (much of which was paid for and installed by the federal government several decades ago) that is beginning to deteriorate. In addition, Idaho has seen a tremendous amount of growth in a very short period of time, which requires new infrastructure investment besides rehabilitating or replacing its aged infrastructure. The cost of infrastructure is great compared to the number of residents to spread the cost over. For example, a $10 million water treatment plant costs 25,000 residents much less per household than a community of 500. It is important to provide life-sustaining services at an affordable rate. Much of the funds that have come through the recent federal investments will help, but frankly, the need for investment far exceeds the funds available.”
With a small group of staff and limited resources, Kimberly officials prefer preventative maintenance over fixing large problems as they arrive.
“Staffing is always a challenge — keeping staff, of course,” Reed said.
Roberts explained that the aging workforce also creates difficulty for those in the field.
“Educating our youth about an excellent career choice of drinking water and wastewater operators is a priority but in the meantime creates a challenge for our communities as we are seeing seasoned operators retire at an extremely high rate throughout the state,” Roberts said.
Another significant challenge is keeping pace with changing regulations, Roberts went on to explain.
“As our environment changes and the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) responds with regulations to help maintain the quality of life we have enjoyed in Idaho, so does the cost of complying with those regulations,” she said.
“The cost of materials and budgets, of course, is an issue,” Reed added. “Costs go up, inflation goes up and we don’t have as much to work with anymore. It’s harder to get grants now because money is going other places.”
According to the National Rural Water Association, 53,000 community water systems in the United States serve more than 300 million Americans. They add that an estimated 14,748 publicly owned treatment works provide wastewater collection, treatment and disposal services to more than 238 million Americans. Many of the systems are in small towns or cities just like Kimberly.
“Whether potable water for drinking and sanitation or wastewater treatment for environmental release or recycling, water services are the lifeblood of any community. Water services are reliable, so it is easy to not give them a second thought,” NRWA said in an article, but these systems require regular maintenance to stay on the right track.
In November, the city of Kimberly was amid regular maintenance scheduling when Reed spoke to the Municipal magazine.
“It’s a very small system,” he explained of Kimberly’s. “We do not treat water. We have very clean groundwater.”
Instead, wastewater for the city is treated by the city of Twin Falls. Whereas Kimberly has a population of about 5,000, Twin Falls boasts over 50,000 and is only a few miles away.
Kimberly flushes hydrants yearly, checking flow rates and actuating valves. The system is, for the most part, C900 plastic, steel and old asbestos-cement transite pipe.
“The older stuff, of course, probably three times a year, we get breaks,” Reed explained, adding that it’s usually the transite pipe, and when that happens, a collar generally stops the leak.
“It’s a pretty simple system,” Reed said. “It’s looped for the most part.”
The wells are maintained in-house by the city.
When there are emergencies, the city has a plan for notifying residents of boil orders.
“When we do boil orders, generally it’s a break or a repair of some kind,” he explained.
Generally, Kimberly uses a door knocker to inform residents in enclosed areas, but if it’s citywide, it’ll use the radio and TV news to keep residents informed.
“In other cases where we can’t isolate a small area, we do a whole town type order, and we try to identify the area that is most likely to be contaminated,” Reed explained. “Our residents appreciate the door knocker option, but really if you get more than 60 or 70 folks, it’s not feasible to do that.”
To prevent problems, maintenance is essential.
“It’s like every other smaller city. We have infrastructure we have to maintain.”
There’s a maintenance schedule to be adhered to. Workers check bowls, actuate valves, pressurized lines and booster systems, among other things, and do general maintenance on one of their seven wells each year, which are derived from the Snake River Plain Aquifer. They maintain smart meters every 10 years.
“There’s certain things that everybody should be doing, but it doesn’t all get done as often as you want,” Reed said.
For the most part, the public works projects Kimberly is working on are general maintenance, but, Reed added, this year the city will be doing work on a second well in the spring. It had a larger project planned, but it was halted. “We do have one project we had to scrap last year because of the budget,” he said. “We only had $100,000 for it and the bids came in at $150,000 roughly. Honestly, they didn’t have time to do it, anyway.”Next Article: Tampa turns to solar to keep intersections live after power outages
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