Residents of the Blueberry Hill area of West Juneau were without water all day Wednesday when a water main and valve broke.
Carl Uchityl was walking his dog early in the morning when he noticed water bubbling up at the intersection of Blueberry Hills Road and Jackson Street.
“Originally I thought it was just heavy rain overnight, because the curb was somewhat full of water,” Uchityl says, “but upon further investigation I saw that it was permeating out of an asphalt patch.”
He called the city’s emergency water utility line and crews were soon on their way. Before the repair was finished, eight people were on the job as well as Public Works Director Kirk Duncan.
He says the 8-inch steel water main had about 8 pin-hole leaks.
“We put a 2-foot stainless steel band on the pipe, which will provide a permanent fix for that piece of infrastructure and while we were doing that one of the water valves downstream blew up due to the non-stainless steel bolts that were used 30 years ago, because stainless wasn’t used back then,” Duncan says.
He also says Douglas Island’s acidic soil speeds up pipe corrosion.
Duncan says the Blueberry Hill problems are symptomatic of Juneau’s aging water system. Much of the pipe was laid in the 1980s and is at least 30-years old.
In some parts of the borough there are problems waiting to happen.
“We have a force main that goes from Anka Street to the bridge on Glacier Highway. You’ll see the patches on the road. It’s blown up three times. That needs to be replaced,” he says.
Duncan says it’s clear a lot of Juneau’s infrastructure is coming to the end of its useful life.
“Eventually a lot of infrastructure is going to have to be replaced. The Mendenhall wastewater treatment plant is 35 years old, the Juneau-Douglas treatment plant is 45 years old,” he said. Disposal of Juneau’s sewage sludge continues to be an expensive problem.
Every 10 years, the city reviews its water and sewer rates and a study is underway. It’s being conducted by Seattle-area consultant Financial Consulting Solutions Group, which did the last one in 2003. Not surprisingly, that report resulted in a rate increase. Most resident customers now pay a flat rate for water and sewer of $90.53.
The current study is due in May and Duncan believes it will recommend higher rates.
“We have $280 million of water and wastewater assets. Even if they lasted 30 years, that’s still $10 million a year and our total revenue for water and wastewater is $13 million a year.
Beginning next month, the city will hold a series of public meetings to explain the issues being addressed in the rate study and the likely need for a future water and sewer rate increase.