Tennessee City Takes on Water Leaks and I&I

Elizabethton, Tennessee, has seen cost savings since merging its water and wastewater divisions into a single entity, allowing it to tackle overdue rehabilitation projects

Tennessee City Takes on Water Leaks and I&I

Trevor Guy connects pipe to the boring head as  Elizabethton replaces about 2,000 feet of galvanized water lines with polyethylene plastic pipes. (Photo By Martin Cherry)

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Elizabethton, Tennessee, has merged its separate water and wastewater divisions into a single Water Resources Department and is realizing synergies, cost savings and long-overdue rehabilitation of its water and sewer lines.

Water Resources General Manager Johann Coetzee says the new strategy recognizes that water and wastewater requires a holistic approach that enacts the concept of “one water.”

Elizabethton’s new organization features a facilities team that works under facilities manager Ed Mullins to take care of the water and wastewater treatment plants and other capital assets, while a construction group handles all maintenance, repairs and replacement work, headed by construction manager Jonathon Pleasant.

“It’s working really well,” says Coetzee. “We’re finding many synergies such as purchasing things like chemicals, and using common equipment cross the board.”

The merger is producing system-wide results.

Deferred maintenance of Elizabethton’s infrastructure was growing like a cancer.  “We were losing 55 percent of our finished water,” Coetzee says. “Plus, on rainy days, our 3.5 mgd wastewater plant was seeing as much as 8 mgd.”

Coetzee and his team have instituted a plan that involves not only leak testing, but full-scale replacement of miles and miles of galvanized distribution pipe.

Also, cracked and broken sewers are being scheduled for repair or replacement.  The department is also upgrading its storage tanks.

Out with the galvanized

“We have over 500,000 feet of old two-inch galvanized water line throughout the service area, especially out in the county,” says Coetzee. “We’ve purchased a Ditch Witch JT-20 horizontal direction drill (HDD) and have three repair crews and one line laying crew, each headed by a crew leader who reports to our construction supervisor. The cost of HDD line installation is one third that of open-cut.”

Crews are laying new 2-inch HDPE (high-density polyethylene) pipe on one side of the road or street, with new PEX lines tying into the customer’s service connection. The department has purchased its own McElroy Pitbull 14 fusing machine to join pipe sections. The department will strategically install 6- inch line to assure adequate fire protection in the neighborhoods.

Coetzee says one of the issues is disconnecting the old pipe, end-to-end. “We don’t have maps of the old lines,” he says. “If a customer had flow or pressure issues, they may have charged a line from an old line but didn’t map it.” He says some of the pipes were installed nearly 100 years ago, and in some cases there may be as many as three different water lines running beneath the same road.

That means finding the source of flowing water often requires crews to dig. “We’re sometimes like gophers, digging potholes all over the place,” says Coetzee. “

Sewers and tanks

Elizabethton is also addressing its I&I problems, though it’s taken a period of time to build up the necessary equipment. The department has added a new Vactor 2100 vacuum truck and a new CUES OZIII CCTV camera head on a CUES Ultra Shorty track body. The CCTV camera system uses a K2-Dolly system for the reel, which is housed in a separate trailer.

The department also uses a set of InfoSense rapid-assessment tools and Granite Net software for their sewer camera inspection records.

Similar to the water line work, crews are using a no-dig approach where possible — slip lining sections in need of replacement with new HDPE pipe and short-section repairs using inserted CIPP liners, avoiding the excavations and disruption associated with open-cut methods.

Customer relations

In order to be successful, Coetzee says it’s critical to maintain a respectful relationship with customers.

“No matter how hard you work,” he says, “you have to get the relationship with the customer right.

“We are a monopoly. We have regulatory powers and we are the only game in town. But we have to rethink that and look at our services in terms of sustainability. We not only need our customers’ money, we need their good will. If we get those two things, we can fulfill our mission.”


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