Readers may recall a story posted in February 2010 wherein I attempted to bring attention to the challenges of Asheville’s aging Asheville water distribution system infrastructure. The story focused on a particular section of large diameter iron pipe with lead packed joint seals. This pipe is part of the primary water distribution system that transmits water from the North Fork and or Bee Tree reservoirs to Asheville and beyond.
In my previous reporting the visible water leak from this pipe was calculated at approximately 200,000 gallons per year. During my most recent inspection, on September 5th 2011, I again found a leak, considerably worse than I had seen during any of my prior inspections. The current rate of leak was measures at approximately 650,000 gallons per year or 1780 gallons per 24 hour period. On September 4th 2011, I measured the rate of leak at approximately 630,000 gallons per year. The leak shown in this video is worsening on a daily basis. Keep in mind the rate of leakage increase as water usage diminishes at night which and pressure builds within the system.
Asheville’s water maintenance department has again been alerted of the condition and they will certainly act to address the leak. The effort will likely be no more than previous, which is to re-pack the existing lead seal, rather than replace the failing pipe joint. During the 8 years that I have been monitoring the section of piping, this routine has played out several times, and each time the leak has resumed worse than the previous. This type of repair is a temporary fix and will not last; the leak will reoccur with a couple months. Sections of Asheville’s antiquated system can not accommodate the pressures necessary to meet growing consumer demands.
As this system continues to age, the risk of catastrophic failure rises. If we take into consideration the added potential stresses caused by recent movements in Eastern fault lines that have been quite for decades, our worry is even greater. Asheville’s 10 year strategic plan does not include replacement of this failing water distribution infrastructure. Surely Asheville has this in their Planned Obsolescence Strategy? Even if this necessary upgrade were in their plan, current financial conditions would almost certainly prevent implementation for many years to come. Catastrophic failure is likely to be the catalyst that will bring about upgrading Asheville’s failing water system.
I wonder if they are better prepared for such an occurrence than they were when flooding of Asheville occurred in September 2004. The severity of the flooding that occurred in 2004 was due to the failure of a primary transmission line that draws from the North Fork reservoir. Emergency release of water from the reservoir washed away a section of this very old pipe. As I recall the majority of Asheville residents were without water for a more than week. The reason it took so long to repair the pipe was due to a lack of available materials due to its age. Does Asheville have a stock of materials to make emergency repairs to this section of piping when we have the next catastrophic failure?