Fraser taking proactive steps to protect, conserve water
Last year, the town of Fraser lost around 20 million gallons of water thanks to cracks and holes in the underground pipes that carry water where it needs to go. This year, the town is working to be more proactive in the ways it protects and conserves this precious natural resource, especially when it comes to the town’s water infrastructure.
By dedicating more resources to ongoing maintenance and preventative measures, Fraser hopes to limit water loss and, ultimately, save both ratepayers and the town money.
“We’ve been a reactive organization in the past, but we’ve put incredible efforts into mapping, digitizing our workflow and asset management, … so we’re really starting to turn that corner to be proactive, so we’re seeing these things ahead of time,” said Adam Cwiklin, water and wastewater superintendent.
Right now, the town is especially focused on reducing the amount of infiltration and inflow, or I&I, which is unregulated water that enters the wastewater system through leaks, holes or cracks and causes the system to work less efficiently.
That’s because the I&I water entering the system is cleaner and colder than typical wastewater and without nutrients in the water, the natural systems used to clean wastewater don’t work as well. As Fraser’s wastewater treatment plant supervisor Joe Fuqua put it, it’s hard to clean clean water.
I&I is especially a problem during mud season, when the snow is melting and there aren’t enough people in town to produce the amount of wastewater needed to balance the clean water entering the system.
While the average water user probably never considers how issues at the wastewater treatment plant could affect them, Cwiklin explained that a less efficient system means less capacity, meaning there might not be enough water to support new developments or, if I&I increases, to provide the same capacity to existing homes and businesses.
“When you lose capacity in the pipes, you’re losing it at the treatment plant, as well, and even costlier than fixing pipes is expanding the treatment plant, so this is the cheaper option,” Cwiklin said.
In order to reduce the amount of I&I in the water system, Cwiklin and his team are working on a collection system master plan, which will help them identify problem spots and fix them early, as well as ongoing maintenance, spot repairs and manhole inspections. Each water pipe is also regularly inspected via video and cleaned about every three years.
On average, every $1 spent on preventative maintenance saves $24 on repairs or replacements, according to the American Water Works Association, which benefits both the town and ratepayers.
That’s the philosophy behind the town’s new service line incentive program as well. The program encourages homeowners to get service line issues fixed before they become costly for everyone.
“If there’s a situation and there’s a big leak, but the homeowner says I’m not doing anything about it, that affects everybody,” said Jeff Durbin, Fraser town manager. “Every expense related to this ends up on your water and sewer bill.”
So far, the efforts have proved fruitful since both water loss and I&I have slowed. In 2014, the average amount of I&I was 2.6 million gallons a day, enough to overload capacity at the treatment plant. This year, the peak amount of I&I was 1.8 million gallons a day in April.
After fixing a large break in the water line along Doc Susie Avenue, water loss rates dropped by several million gallons and Cwilkin said he expects it to keep dropping as more repairs are made.
With continued maintenance and more proactive efforts, the town hopes to extend both the capacity and life of the water treatment plant.
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