A Band-Aid approach won’t fix Rotterdam’s water issues.
The town’s water consultant told the Town Board on Wednesday that “vast improvements” are needed to the system which was installed in the mid-1950s.
“I don’t want the town just to say, ‘OK, we’re through the crisis. Let’s sit back and just go about business,’ ” said Clark Collins, who worked in the town’s Water Department for 23 years. “I think the residents deserve better.”
Collins gave the report after some notable problems with the water system arose. A 20-inch water main cracked on Princetown Road on June 30, setting off a chain reaction that resulted in four mains breaking and a broken valve. Some residents had no water for a day, and much of the town was without drinking water for four days. Then, Aug. 9, a 20-inch main burst, causing surrounding streets and some homes to be flooded and leaving a giant hole in Bernard Street.
Collins said the total cost of the repairs exceeded $80,000 and that emergency repairs will always cost more than fixes made in a controlled situation.
“It was unfortunate we had those series of events, but you know, sometimes things happen for a reason,” he said. “It got our attention again.”
He said the town should start by paying a company to evaluate its 20- and 24-inch mains for leaks; the town has three estimates ranging from $15,000 to $83,000 and the work could begin within six to eight weeks.
“If we could find those little, minute cracks, we can dig down and fix those before they blow,” he said.
Collins tentatively traced the last five breaks to a 20-inch main that broke on Princetown Road three years ago during a severe winter. He said its repair resulted in a tiny crack in the main, which eventually ruptured at the joint — the weakest part of the main. But he said the town can’t be sure of what’s causing the breaks until a full review is done.
“If we do the leak detection, we might find the cracks that have been there for years,” he said.
Collins also recommended that the town install pressure-detecting sensors on its 20- and 18-inch mains that would set off an alarm if the pressure was too high, and later install air surge tanks. That work could begin in six to eight weeks as well, he said.
He said the town has paid for water studies, most recently in 2003, and ignored them for them for too long.
“We spend all the money on studies but we don’t do what the study tells us,” he said.
Deputy Supervisor Wayne Calder agreed that upgrades to the water infrastructure need to happen sooner than later. The town also plans to install a new wellhead on Rice Road, which would improve the town’s ability to get water back online after a break.
“We’re trying to be proactive,” he said. “This is why we raised the water tax.”
Collins said the town’s flat water fee of $25 didn’t generate enough revenue to pay for the repairs that are needed, which is why he advocated for raising it to $75, a decision the Town Board made in February.
“Now we have the money,” he said.