Two water transmission line leaks at the west end of town had municipal staff scrambling over the course of four days earlier this month.
The ten-inch water transmission line that connects the town’s water reservoir to the local water treatment plant started leaking on Jan. 7, marking the start of a variety of issues with the town’s infrastructure.
On the afternoon of Jan. 7 public works officials noticed water coming out of the ditch west on Highway 28 near the B&R Eckels pipe yard. After identifying the leak, crews waited until later in the evening, a less peak time, to tackle the issue.
“It was just a little rust spot that slowly over 30 years rusted to the point where it became a little hole in the side of the valve. It is one of those things you get with older infrastructure,” said Town CAO Mark Power.
In order to fix the hole in the ten-inch transmission line crews had to shut off a few valves around town and redirect flow to the town’s back-up six inch water transmission line. Due to unreliable mapping of the waterlines that run under the town, staff had a difficult time locating where the pipes cross connected and where all of the valves were located.
“We couldn’t and still can’t figure out where all of the valves are cross-connected,” said Power. “It is a real dogs breakfast with some of this 30 to 40 year old infrastructure.”
Right as public works staff were close to finishing up the fix on the ten-inch line, the town’s back-up six inch line blew just in front of the Northern Lights School Division office.
“It was totally unrelated. It had nothing to do with (the other leak),” said Power. “It was just a break in the six inch line, the other line twinning the reservoir.”
It was at this point all hands were on deck, as a break in both water lines meant the town had no way of supplying Bonnyville residents with water.
The main reservoir sat with four metres of water, but that tank usually only lasts the town just over a day, according to Power. The town got the word out to the public, telling residents to reduce their water consumption and conserve water as much as possible.
“I would really like to extend to the residents in the community a very hearty thanks. With our typical water use and the way the reservoir is drained, we would have had until the Saturday morning and then we would been turning water off,” said Mayor Gene Sobolewski. “We didn’t need to turn the water off because there was so much conservation. We had four inches left in the big reservoir and we didn’t have to go into the (emergency reservoir).”
Power talked with some residents and businesses in the community, including several of the hotels that postponed doing laundry over the course of the waterline breaks as a way to help the town conserve water.
“The community used a lot less water than we thought they were going to use, which is good because it bought us a lot more time to get the repair done properly.”
The six-inch line is made of old asbestos cement, according to Power, and is brittle, which makes breaks harder to deal with when they happen. The old, crumbling waterline, combined with the cold weather, caused a lot of problems for town staff during the repairs.
“It took 24 hours longer than we anticipated to fix that six inch line break in front of Northern Lights School Division because it just kept breaking and it was cold and miserable. That job took a lot longer than expected,” said Power.
In order to make the repairs to the ten-inch line staff had to shut off a valve right where the line comes into the main reservoir. When they went to turn the valve back on it broke.
“We wanted to go back and start filling the reservoir, but that valve had completed rusted off,” said Power.
The only way to fix it was to drain it, which resulted in town staff having to wait for residents to consume all of the water in the reservoir. Due to residents’ conservation of water over the course of the weekend, town staff had to wait longer than anticipated for the water levels to come down so they could fix the problem in the reservoir.
“We were ready to tackle the valve in the reservoir, but we needed the water level to come down. People were conserving water so well that what we thought we would be able to do at 9 a.m. we couldn’t actually do because the water was too deep to work it,” said Power.
Since then the broken valve has been pulled out, but town crews are still waiting on a part to come in before they could complete the fix. Power expected the valve at the reservoir to be back in working condition mid-week.
“We will shut the waterline off for a bit again, but we will have that six inch line to fill the town while we make the other repairs,” said Power.
The leak in the one waterline and break in the other has brought the issue of the town’s old, decaying infrastructure back to the forefront. It had been two years since town officials were last worried about the water transmission lines. The uneasiness came after one of the town’s main water lines broke south of 54 Ave. on Feb. 22, 2014 leaving the town without water for over 17 hours.
“It is probably not the last time (we deal with a waterline break), but hopefully it is the last time for a while. It has been two years since we were worried about this happening. If it goes another two years I will be happy,” said Power.
The current goal for the town is to patch up their infrastructure and get by with the current water transmission lines until a new regional waterline from Cold Lake can be built.
“We don’t want to spent millions of dollars fixing the line between the Town and the water treatment plant, if we are getting a new waterline from Cold Lake,” said Power.