EPCOR Water continues to deal with a seemingly chronic issue in Fountain Hills of water main failure, the most recent incident late last month on Palisades Blvd. at Sunburst Drive.
Frank Metzler, EPCOR’s director for central operations, said that Fountain Hills is by no means unique in dealing with aging infrastructure.
“Water infrastructure all over the country is aging,” Metzler said. “As much as we would like to go out and replace, we are working with the system we were given.
“We need to work smarter, spend wisely and minimize impact to customers and residents.”
Part of the problem, according to Metzler, is that the water system that was built for Fountain Hills does not have separate, dedicated transmission lines that would be used strictly to move water from the treatment plant to the various reservoir tanks in the community.
Transmission lines would normally be built with stronger pipe to handle the extra pressure of the load.
The main lines in Fountain Hills serve both as transmission and distribution lines. Metzler said they are moving water from the treatment plant to reservoirs on a frequent basis, and they sometimes need to work with peak customer use times in the earlier morning hours before work and in the afternoon when people come home and use water for showers, meal prep and sometimes laundry.
Sometimes the pressure can be too much for the aging lines which, according to EPCOR, had inadequate installation.
Metzler said it is important when a line failure does occur that crews identify it as quickly as possible to minimize impact on customers as well as damage to roadways where the lines are often buried.
With the most recent break he said the majority of customers who lost service were restored within two hours. There were four to five residences that were between the nearest valve and the break that were shut off for most of the day.
“We don’t want people inconvenienced and we need to make repairs correctly,” Metzler said.
They are currently installing “smart” fire hydrants along Palisades that will detect a drop in pressure and notify a central monitoring station so crews can be dispatched to investigate.
Also, EPCOR has spent $2 million over the past five years to install new valves in town and they are nearly all replaced.
“It is cheaper and easier to replace a valve than it is to make line repairs,” Metzler said.
He said they have also made sure that they have critical material and contractors available to respond to an emergency. The most recent break had Palisades Boulevard closed less than 48 hours, quicker than other recent line repairs.
Trying to address the situation to prevent problems in the future is a little more complicated, according to Metzler.
“We are working with our engineering staff to look at possibly revising pressure zones,” he said. “We get a lot of variation in water pressure with the hills in Fountain Hills.”
Zone revisions could ease those variations.
EPCOR is also looking at a long-term capital plan to update lines. Metzler said the line reconstruction on Sunridge Drive done last year cost $2.7 million. He said preliminary estimates for a similar project on Palisades between Shea Boulevard and Sunridge Drive are about $4 million.
“It needs to be a measured capital replacement plan to avoid a massive impact on rates as well as construction inconvenience,” Metzler said.
He said EPCOR is prepared to work closely with the town in planning such a capital program.