Archive for Monday, August 14, 2017

After 22 water main breaks, city finds 13 miles of pipeline were improperly installed

Waterline replacement construction at the intersection of 23rd Street and Ousdahl Road continues on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. The city recently found that 13 miles of piping installed in the 90s may not have been installed correctly, potentially adding to needed replacements in coming years.

Waterline replacement construction at the intersection of 23rd Street and Ousdahl Road continues on Thursday, Aug. 10, 2017. The city recently found that 13 miles of piping installed in the 90s may not have been installed correctly, potentially adding to needed replacements in coming years.

August 14, 2017


For more than two weeks, people living in the 2000 block of Louisiana Street saw firsthand what a water main break means. That included workers having to tear through lawns and sidewalks to replace the leaking pipe, and a week when residents had to boil their drinking water.

Before that, a water main break on Fourth Street required several days of repair and left 200 customers temporarily without water. And there were others.

In a three-week period, 22 water main breaks occurred throughout the city, costing a total of about $200,000 in repairs and replacements, according to Director of Utilities Dave Wagner.

“It was pretty extensive relative to what we usually do because we were running multiple crews,” Wagner said. “Basically running a 24-hour operation on line repair for a week, and we don’t normally have to do that.”

Though breaks during peak lawn-watering season aren’t uncommon, Wagner said the majority of the 22 broken water mains shared something troubling. They aren't very old.

Improperly installed

When the pipe from the Louisiana Street neighborhood, which is near Lawrence High School, came out of the ground, it was in much worse shape than expected. The pipe was rusted and brittle, and Wagner said it was so fragile that one tap of a ballpin hammer was enough to puncture it.

The pipe, though, is only about 25 years old and was projected to last for 100 years. Wagner said its unexpectedly poor condition was due to how it was installed, and there are another 13 miles of piping that were installed the same way. Wagner said they will likely have to adjust rate models and replacement plans based on what they learn from investigations into the condition of that piping.

“Right now, it’s giving indication that we’ve got to adjust our life expectancy,” Wagner said. “That 13 miles of pipe, it’s probably not going to last that long.”

If the piping continues to fail sooner than expected, those adjustments will create unexpected costs at a time when water infrastructure costs and water bills are already on the rise. The situation could make balancing regular maintenance, emergency repairs and costs to residents more difficult.

What went wrong

Wagner said the pipe installations were done in the 1990s without the wrapping or other protection needed to account for the soil conditions.

Wagner said he is not sure who decided to not wrap or protect the pipe or what the rationale was.

“I don’t think we have any recourse in that,” Wagner said. “Those were decisions that were made in the '90s, to do that installation practice. With every industry you get on a learning curve and change things as you start to respond to failures.”

Commissioner Matthew Herbert said the city's response to the situation is two-fold. For one, he said he thinks the city has to take care of its infrastructure needs. In addition, he said there is a lesson to be learned.

“This is a classic example of why you have to do things right the first time, and sometimes doing them right is more expensive than doing them the quick, cheap way,” Herbert said. “Had we wrapped those pipes in the '90s, we wouldn’t have a problem today.”

Commissioner Lisa Larsen also said the city is paying the price for not making the best decision for the long term.

“Hopefully, it will be a lesson learned and we’ll take a different approach,” Larsen said.

Since installing that piping in the 1990s, the city knows more about the characteristics of the soil in the area. Wagner said the city tested the soil characteristics around 2010 and they were found to be “aggressive.” He said now the standard requirement is to wrap ductile pipe or install what is known as cathodic protection.

Wagner said the city needs more data about the 13 miles of unwrapped pipeline to determine if repairs or adding protections could help at this point. He said some of the piping is thicker and therefore may not be as fragile as the lines that required complete replacements.

Larsen said she thinks the city’s engineers need to sit down and determine the most effective strategy for the unwrapped segments, and whether it is best to pre-emptively replace or repair them.

“What’s the best decision from a cost standpoint as well as a long-term maintenance standpoint?” Larsen said.

Rising water bills

The City Commission unanimously approved an 8 percent increase for water and sewer rates for next year. The average resident who uses 4,000 gallons monthly will pay about $72 per month for water, sewer and stormwater in 2018 (not including charges for trash and recycling). Compared with rates in 2013, average water costs are up $22 per month, or by about 30 percent.

Wagner said addressing the unplanned water main failures may mean deferring or scaling down planned projects or going back to the commission in the future to increase water rates beyond current rate models.

"But some of that’s just a matter of looking through the numbers, refining the data and getting it to be right-sized for what’s reasonable in running the utility," Wagner said.

Herbert pointed out that Lawrence is toward the middle of the pack when comparing its utility rates to similar communities, but that the city needs to be very conscious of how rate increases affect residents with low or fixed incomes. Still, Herbert said the city must keep infrastructure needs in mind and plan incremental increases.

“Ultimately, if you don’t keep up with it, once you get behind it’s hard to ever catch up,” Herbert said. “And so we’re going to have incremental increases, it’s going to be something that’s going to happen. But I think the bigger danger is if we try to play the political game of not having increases for a prolonged period of time to make us look better politically and then putting ourselves so far behind that we have to have some sort of huge jump.”

The city does currently have reduced rates for elderly residents who also are low-income, but parameters for that program are narrow. To be eligible, residents must be over age 60 and make less than $13,266 per year for a single person and less than $17,864 for the head of a family. Herbert said he is interested in expanding the program so more people are eligible.

“Programs like that are going to be really important,” Herbert said. “And I’ve actually begun conversations with (Finance Director) Bryan Kidney about how we can expand that program a little further.”

In addition to infrastructure repair, city staff have said the utility rate increases beginning next year will go toward compliance with stricter water quality regulations and the city’s new wastewater treatment plant. The Wakarusa Wastewater Treatment Plant will open next year and will give the city greater capacity to handle growth and meet new treatment regulations.

Planning for repairs

The city has a regular schedule for replacing water mains, such as a project to replace the water main along a portion of 23rd Street that is currently underway. Another $2.6 million of water main replacements are budgeted for next year.

Dealing with breaks is also a regular part of business for the city. In 2016, there were 141 breaks and 140 the year before, according to Deputy Director of Utilities Mike Lawless. Through July, Lawless said there have been 89 breaks.

Wagner said the city typically has 130-180 water main breaks per year, but the hope is to get that trending downward.

Herbert said another element of the funding conversation is the citywide 0.55 percent sales tax, which is up for renewal in November. If approved, the tax would fund infrastructure, public transit and affordable housing, and residents can vote on each of the three elements individually.

“At the risk of this sounding like a sales pitch, I suppose, I think this situation really highlights the importance of that infrastructure portion of the sales tax that’s coming up in November,” Herbert said. “We have some real serious infrastructure needs that, as of this summer, appear to be a whole lot more serious than we even thought.”

The city’s current budget assumes renewal of the sales tax. From 2019-2022, the city’s capital improvement plan currently calls for another $16 million of water main replacements or relocations. Final spending decisions for each year will be each preceding summer as part of the city’s budget process.


Bob Smith 8 months, 1 week ago

So duct tape and bubble gum aren't the best materials for joining water pipes?

Ralph Gage 8 months, 1 week ago

Am I the only one who's astonished that the city seems to have no standards for writing project specifications? No inspections? We have miles of streets that must be rebuilt! Now this! Who is watching over other infrastructure projects? The city commission, county commission and school board have no hesitation about spending taxpayer money, and apparently no concept about value for money spent. After all, it's somebody else's money. This is ridiculous.

David Holroyd 8 months, 1 week ago

Should anyone be surprised? Look at Rock Chalk...or whatever the name is of the rec center..problems from the get go.

The city just finished work at 14th and Ohio..paved part of the street after tearing it up. The storn sewer openings were rebuilt on 14th at Ohio and did the city put openings into the 14th street when Ohio was open? NO....Lisa Larsen is an engineer...what gives? Now the water runs from Ohio to the east and across the street down to Kentucky....How dumb can they be when the hole was there to connect into the the winter the street will have ice on it..

Mr. Markus apparently isn;t checking on his workers and the commission hasn't thought of it.

Here is a hint to help:

Each commissioner take responsiblity for one job and go out and look at it!!!

By the way,

Has Chad found out how much money was collected on those parking meters on Indiana Street and Mississippi....the money that was to go toward Affordable Housing. Stuart Boley should inqure...after all he was behind the scheme.

How's that roof coming along on the Mausoleum , Mr. Markus.....surely you can find some money in the pot, if you can fix the water lines..

Michael Kort 8 months, 1 week ago

This is the engineering cycle at it's best.......which is a horrible dream of buildinh it faster, cheaper. lighter, easier to install .

Ductiles iron pipes strength ( when new ) is its flexibility under massive weight load but its weakness is its thin wall design which leaves little thickness to sacrifice to rusting out from the outside in ..

Ductile iron pipe comes from the factory with a black asphalt like coating which is supposed to keep it from rusting while sitting stacked in a pipe yard but not protect it for life from installed soil and other environments .

That factory coating will not protect it from acidic soils, leaking sewage, etc .

To install this stuff so that it lasts they have to put a poly sleeve over the pipe which is compressed at mid pipe and then expanded end to end and tape joined to the next piece of pipe when the pipe is lowered into place underground .

Acidic Water can get into the poly sleeves but as long as it is not thru flowing in and out of the sleeves the waters PH will be neutralized and rusting will be minimal .

Older ancient cast iron pipe outlives the newer ductile iron pipe ( if it is not installed properly with a water tight wrapping ) simply because metallurgy was not that advanced in the early 1900s so pipe was over built with walls that could be 3X ot more the thickness of the more recent Ductile Iron Pipe

Michael Kort 8 months, 1 week ago

I wonder why the manufactures of ductile iron pipe don't put a better coating on the outside of the pipes that they make ?

Are these engineered by the pipe manufacturers to die early ?

Why not spaycoat their outsides with something that will stand up to handling and burial in the ground as opposed to the normal asphaltic paint and the Rube Goldberg flexible plastic slip over sleeves ?

The manufacturers of this trash are costing this country a fortune and this is one place where US government regulation would save us all a fortune !......or how about a class action suit to force an improvement in their product ?

Note that repairs to existing ancient cast iron water mains with newer ductile iron pipes need the same poly plastic flexible sleeves to protect them also..

This is a national problem going back to the 60s and not totally unique to Lawrence although on newer stuff our city should have done the poly sleeve wrap in the 90s .

But i guess that we don't want the Feds regulating this stuff because we are all not smart enough to only reinstall a water main once every 100 years !

We'd rather do our own thing and replace water mains ever 25 to 30 years .

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 8 months, 1 week ago

Who needs to fix it? Who did this job? If someone put a roof on your house and shingles fell off, would you fix it or would you demand the company fix it, and sue them if they didn't. Come on Lawrence. Quit being chumps.

Michael Kort 8 months, 1 week ago

I could agree if the city was trusting the installer to "do it right" but it sounds as if the city (?) wrote a job specification contract that (?) did not include the poly sleeve wrapping (?) of the ductile iron pipe (?) and that the contractor did what they were paid to do (?) .

I obviously have not seen a copy of the job contracts that people bid on and we are talking about a 1990s (?) set of jobs .

I am not a lawyer and i could not tell you the legal meaning of all of this but i assume that fulfilling the contract is what it would boil down to .

The way not to be chumps is to write a good contract based on a good understanding of the materials involved that specifies certain necessary outcomes and then sit on the contractor with a full time inspection before they are allowed to bury anything and make sure that they do not destroy their good work by improper backfill .

You'd be surprised at how many people buy a new roof and never even look at the manufacturers on line installation specs..... so they don't know what they buy and don't specify that the installer follows the manufacturer's guidelines, so years later the contractor is out of business and the manufacturer refuses to warranty defective work done by others .

You have elected people who think that cost is what bids are about ( along with the public ) trying to manage building things that they don't understand in a materials sense and the average homeowner is not far behind that in the don't want to know columb ( they live to pay the bills and trust way too much ) and will sell the house before the poor whatever is discovered by new some buyer .

Lisa Rasor 8 months, 1 week ago

Unfortunately, if the pipes were installed in the 1990's, any statute of limitations has long since expired. It sounds like the pipes were installed properly according to best engineering knowledge at the time; it was later determined that the pipes need the extra protection. If so, bringing suit might also be barred by the statute of repose.

Carol Bowen 8 months, 1 week ago

"This is the engineering cycle at it's best.......which is a horrible dream of buildinh it faster, cheaper. lighter, easier to install ." - Michael Kort

Michael, Thanks for the explanation. Your comment is right on. The city was looking for cheaper ways to do most of its projects. Water mains break. Kasold has to be rebuilt. Curbs and gutters are crumbling. ... Now, we are experiencing the results of our lean budgeting at the same time folks are upset about increasing fees and taxes.

Back in the day, the city had a surplus. A decision was made to cut taxes rather than invest in existing infrastructure. Now, there's no way taxpayers would allow tax revenue to increase to that level again. Taking the lowest bids might not be the best way to go. Caught in a hard place. If we don't invest in infrastructure, the infrasructure will force the issue.

Michael Kort 8 months, 1 week ago

This is a national problem and we as a nation have to start thinking long term with concretes that resist winter salt, rebar that is coated to prevent rust from expanding it and destroying the concrete that it reinforces, water mains and service lines to homes that are built to last and resist destruction from without and from treated water within that contains chlorine which is an oxidant and that has a PH level that is somewhere (?) between a total acid and a total base in chemistry that can vary (?) over time .

What is the material made of ? How will it be used ? Will its use or conditions of use vary over time ?

We used to over build ( because we had not figured out the engineering / political cycle of building faster, cheaper, lighter) as was the pre 1920s pit cast iron water mains and bridges such as the Brooklyn Bridge which is from the 1880s or so and is still in use ( with regular upkeep ) today .

Michael Kort 8 months, 1 week ago

This is not the fault of the dedicated people who show up to fix your water mains or those answering the phone when you call .

This is the public and a political system trying to manage the real costs of a mechanical system that the public is mostly oblivious about that is happily out of sight and mind for the most part until it breaks .

Then the water company becomes the whipping boy for public indifference and the political failure to be able to plan and think long term about critical infrastructure .

What is expedient in the short run is a disaster in the making in the long run .

And we all want a pony too !

Theodore Calvin 8 months, 1 week ago

But Michael, building things to last for 100 years means that there will not be lucrative contracts up annually to award to the Comptons, Fritzels, Treanors, Werners, & Pennys of the world. How would those folks survive?

Carol Bowen 8 months, 1 week ago

Yup. Like Michael said, this happened nation-wide. And, it doesn't look like the situation is getting any better. We are still chanting the old mantra, "No new taxes." At a time when we have to repair or replace past projects and build new. It's nobody's fault. This is getting expensive.

Mark Jakubauskas 8 months, 1 week ago

"Wagner said he is not sure who decided to not wrap or protect the pipe or what the rationale was."

C'mon Wagner. Who was the Director of Public Works ? Who wrote the contract ? Who signed off on the specs ? That pipe didn't just get put in the ground by little green elves. Someone at the city was responsible, even if they were ignorant or incompetent.

Name names. Who screwed up ? And are they still working there today ?

Ken Lassman 8 months, 1 week ago

George Williams, who by practically all accounts was a masterful Director of Public Works:


Sounds like as usual, it's more complicated than it looks. Chances are the lining was added as soon as the evidence started coming in that it was needed.

Michael Kort 8 months, 1 week ago

From 1886 to 1920 or so pipes were made of cast iron that was poured into standing molds that were down in pits that had very thick walls, some nearly as thick as the narrow side of a 2 X 4 to compensate for what they did not know and any air that might get trapped.or off center mold shifting, etc ..

That PIT CAST IRON PIPE is long lived because there is lots of metal to rust out in the walls and the joints made of Oakum ( hemp or jute soaked in oil that expanded when wet were sealed with Lead that will flex some as the pipe expands and contracts with temperature or earth movements ) .

From early 1920s to 1960s we had newer SPUN CAST IRON PIPE that was frozen to solid inside of horizontally spinning molds that threw molten cast iron thru centrifugal force into even pipe walls with the air driven out that could be made thinner and lighter .

The molds were finished off with a cold water rinse that set the pipe faster improving the finished metals performance but with thinner walls the life span was shortened !!!

About the same time the poured and caulked lead joint seal was replaced with a sulfur based joint compound called LEADITE which does not expand and contract as well along with the pipe metal causing joint failures due to breaks, long term .

It as safer and easier than working with pouring a leaded joint but the long term consequences were unknown at that time .

By 1960 cast iron was done, replaced with DUCTILE IRON which had great flexible strength due to improved metals science, rubber joints and a cement sprayed in liner that was fine but came with an even thinner wall to sacrifice to outside rust and acidic environments, that had a simple asphaltic factory paint job outside that was no match for acid soils and rusting ( it was a pretty coating for the pipe sales yard but was not dependable in the ground in an acidic environment )

Somebody finally realized that plastics never go away in the environment and figured out that wrapping factory asphaltic coated ductile iron in forever plastic solved the rusting problem and that was that .......until the 1990s mistakes here in Lawrence .

So, the oldest thickest pit cast iron pipes, the 20s to 60s thinner spin cast pipes ( and their leadite joints ) and the miss installed 90s ductile iron pipes and their earlier cousins, are all simultaneously going south all at once............and this ( minus our 90s pipes ) is all happening at once all across this nation .

Water and sewer should go federal ( as in as infrastructure programs ) with a gas tax increase so that we don't have bridges collapses while we are driving over them like I-35 in Minneapolis, Min. killing and injuring people .

Have you noticed on the KCMO news the people who are up in arms and overwhelmed with their water and sewer bills and that is a national issue even in very small 200 people towns who have no base of ratepayers anywhere near close to fixing these issues !

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