- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Budget problems won’t prevent the inspection of water pipes in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, officials of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission say.

WSSC officials on Monday detailed their plan to inspect and monitor all of the system’s larger concrete pipes by fiscal 2013. Some of them might have been installed incorrectly - like the main that burst on River Road in December.

The water utility earlier this decade had cut inspections of its larger pipes because of budget constraints.

“We do not intend to let this [inspection] program suffer due to budgetary issues, as has happened in the past,” Chief of Engineering Gary Gumm told a committee of the Montgomery County Council.

The plan would shorten the period between inspections from 12 years to six and focus on pipes near large population centers and schools. That includes 77 miles of pipes 49 inches and larger.

The WSSC intends to inspect nearly 11 miles of larger pipe in the College Park and Derwood areas this fiscal year. It inspected only four miles of pipe from fiscal 2001through fiscal 2006.

Inspecting bigger pipes takes several months and costs $100,000 per mile, a WSSC spokesman said.

Pipes must be emptied of water, and inspectors enter the pipes, using sonar and other equipment to search for cracks and other problems.

Mr. Gumm said the WSSC should continue with its plan to install acoustic fiber-optic devices in the larger pipes that can warn of impending breaks.

The utility has installed monitoring devices in 17 miles worth of pipe, he said.

Council members wondered what assurances the utility could give.

“You’re asking for a guarantee on safety. As an engineer, I certainly can’t give you that,” Mr. Gumm said. “I can tell you we’ve got this laid out as aggressively as we can.”

Officials said that they have determined inspectors were on the scene more than 40 years ago when the large water main on River Road was improperly installed against jagged rock.

But they still do not know how far-reaching installation problems might be systemwide.

“I can’t definitively say this was isolated, short of going out there and digging it all up,” Teresa D. Daniell, the WSSC’s interim general manager, said after the council session.

But with inspection and monitoring, she said, “at least we have the eyes and ears we need.”

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