- Associated Press - Saturday, October 22, 2016

CHATHAM, Ill. (AP) - Forcing high volumes of water through more than 133 miles of pipe in the village of Chatham is not as simple as opening fire hydrants and letting the water roar.

The first system-wide main flushing in recent memory is not likely to end the now years-long debate over the taste, quality and even safety of Chatham water. But the practice of “scouring” water mains and pipes through a systematic, neighborhood-by-neighborhood flushing program has become standard practice for some communities as a way to improve water quality.

Effective programs, according to experts, are designed down to the feet-per-second of water flow.

“If you don’t have a clean system, you’re going to have water-quality issues,” said Amy Barrilleaux, spokeswoman for the Madison Water Utility in Madison, Wisconsin.

The city spends $300,000 a year to flush 900 miles of water lines serving 68,000 customers. The annual flushing program begins in April and typically continues area by area of the city into November.

Madison officials approved the program nearly a decade ago in response to customer complaints of discolored, bad-tasting water resulting from years of sediment buildup. The traditional twice-a-year program of opening hydrants was not sufficient to clean out impurities such as manganese and iron, according to the city. The utility since has won statewide prizes for water quality.

The city also spent $5.3 million on filters specifically designed to remove manganese and iron that were the source of many of the quality complaints. The improvements have been well worth the time and expense by sharply reducing quality complaints, according to the utility.

“Water-main flushing,” Barrilleaux said, “is a lot of time and effort.”

The Chatham Village Board approved a $2.50-a-month fee for a year to pay the $160,000 cost of flushing water mains. Work began Monday in neighborhoods near Interstate 55 and will move west over the next few weeks. It could take up to two months, according to the village.

Theresa O’Grady compares the process to washing a drinking glass.

“You turn on the faucet higher to get the soap off the sidewall of your glass,” said O’Grady, manager of the water resource group in the Aurora office of Crawford, Murphy & Tilly of Springfield.

CMT is the engineering and design firm for the village of Chatham. O’Grady designed the Chatham program using a technique known as “unidirectional” flushing. Rather than simply opening hydrants and letting water flow, unidirectional flushing increases volume and speed by forcing water in one direction. A flow of 5 feet per second is considered the minimum for effective flushing, said O’Grady.

“Back in the day, they would just open up a hydrant as far as it could go and run it a few minutes until the water was clear, and then shut it down,” she said. “It was more of a fire hydrant exercising program than it was a flushing program. You didn’t really know what results you were getting.”

Water flow is monitored and water quality regularly tested with unidirectional flushing, O’Grady explained. She added that a regular main flushing program is now considered a good standard practice.

Aurora flushes one-fourth of its water system each year, so that the entire network is cleaned every four years, O’Grady said.

City Water, Light and Power spokeswoman Amber Sabin said in an email that the Springfield utility regularly flushes its mains.

“CWLP primarily flushes for new water main installations, following repair work and also at dead-end mains to ensure fresh water to those areas” Sabin said. ” We also flush mains for testing hydrants and valves. During warm weather, or when water use is low in an area of our system, we sometimes flush to maintain adequate chlorine residuals.”

The central Illinois community of Morton switched to unidirectional flushing after years of taste and other quality issues, including periodic boil orders, said Craig Loudermilk, director of public works for the community of 17,000 that’s just east of Peoria.

He said Morton has begun replacing aging pipes and water mains at a pace of about a mile a year. The community also is moving toward an annual, community-wide flushing program, he added.

“We’re making some modifications and will probably do it annually working with the state EPA (Environmental Protection Agency),” Loudermilk said.

The first week of main flushing in Chatham resulted in a series of boil orders. Village officials also warned customers of discolored water, and not to do dishes or laundry until the water had cleared. The water is considered safe to drink, according to the village, unless there is a boil order.

Critics of Chatham water are skeptical.

“We don’t believe it’s going to help. The same water that put sediment in there is going to put more sediment in there,” said Jewel Brant with the Chatham Water Quality Interest Group.

Members of the group contend problems began with water-plant design flaws and the chemistry of the water when Chatham switched in 2012 from CWLP to the newly created South Sangamon Water Commission.

“The design wasn’t ideal from the get-go,” Brant said. “This seems more like putting a Band-Aid on it.”

Interim Village Administrator Pat McCarthy said complaints were anticipated as the flushing program moved through the community. He also pointed out that the flushing was recommended by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

“Things are going to happen, but every day, you get better at it. You also find out where the weaknesses are (in the system),” McCarthy said. “It’s expensive, it’s time consuming, and you wish you didn’t have to do it.”

Plans are to flush the water mains in the first few weeks and then move deeper into neighborhoods, McCarthy said. He added that he expects the village will adopt a more systematic, long-term program once the current flush is complete.

“Once we get our model, I could see us doing it every year and maybe doing just a third of the town,” McCarthy said.

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Source: The (Springfield) State Journal-Register, https://bit.ly/2e5sbOb

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Information from: The State Journal-Register, https://www.sj-r.com


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