Beneath the hilly terrain contributing to Washington County’s rugged beauty lies a 900-mile-long distribution system spread across 300 square miles — a network of pipe that provides water for WCSA’s 22,000 connections, or nearly 50,000 people every day. If this piping were laid end-to-end, its length would stretch all the way from Virginia Beach to St. Louis, Missouri.
A majority of the pipeline was installed years ago without adequate planning or design for future growth. Small-diameter galvanized steel piping is believed to be among the oldest type of pipeline in WCSA’s distribution system. As it ages, galvanized steel has a tendency to corrode from the outside, leading to frequent leaks and concerns about water quality. Extensive lengths of smaller lines contribute to pressure problems for customers, greater pumping costs and water outages.
WCSA is in the process of replacing all galvanized water line in its distribution system with new line hydraulically designed to meet existing and future water demand. At the outset of the project, approximately 8,000 of WCSA’s 19,500 (at the time) residential connections, or 40 percent, were directly tapped off of galvanized lines, which then accounted for around 22 percent (or 200 miles) of WCSA’s water piping. The elimination of galvanized line is expected to free up approximately 15 percent of WCSA’s combined treatment capacity and water pumping, storage, transmission and distribution systems.
“Galvanized line has been the number one contributor to customer complaints related to both water quality and hydraulic deficiencies,” says WCSA General Manager Robbie Cornett. “It has accounted for 86 percent of all inventoried leaks and breaks repaired by WCSA’s crews, with an average total annual repair cost of $270,000.”
The Galvanized Line Replacement Project has been broken into three phases. Phase 1 was completed in early 2013, with 211,747 linear feet of new ductile iron (for large-diameter piping) and PVC (for smaller diameters). This phase improved service for the town of Abingdon, the town of Glade Spring, the Abingdon Elementary / Route 19 area, and the Lowry Hills area.
Construction on Phase 2 began in September 2015 and was completed in March 2017, with nearly 242,000 linear feet of new piping installed. Galvanized line was also replaced around Benhams and Reedy Creek; along Wyndale Road and at the northern end of Lee Highway; at Abingdon Elementary, Prices Bridge, DeBusk Mill and Cedar Creek; in areas of Westwood, Emory, Taylors Valley and Fishers Hollow; and in Stonegate Subdivision.
The final phase of the project, which will be broken into three divisions across Washington County, will be advertised for bids this summer and is currently anticipated to be complete by the end of 2019. Division 1 of Phase 3 will encompass sections between the Rivermont and Damascus areas. Division 2 will include parts around South Holston Lake, Old Saltworks Road, outlying areas of the town of Abingdon, Larwood Acres and Clayman Valley. Division 3 will encompass sections around Smyth Chapel / Tobias, Greenway Creek / Stonybrook, and outlying areas around the town of Glade Spring.
The entire project, expected to cost $35.45 million, is being supported by low-interest loans from USDA Rural Development, which will be repaid from customer rates.
The replacement of WCSA’s galvanized piping has been accompanied by a great deal of planning for the future. Lines are sized to meet the needs of customers 40 or more years down the road. In addition, galvanized line could not provide fire flow, and the majority of the new lines being installed include new fire hydrants. Since January 2010, WCSA has increased the number of fire hydrants from 1,076 to 1,616.
“Not only do many residents enjoy a more dependable supply of drinking water, but they now have fire protection for the first time, which can also result in lower insurance rates,” Cornett says.
While WCSA has undertaken numerous capital improvement projects over the years, the Galvanized Line Replacement Project is one of the most extensive endeavors to date.
“Over the past several years, WCSA has completed a significant number of capital projects to improve and enhance our system, and more are either currently underway or are in the works,” Cornett says. “These projects are crucial for maintaining the reliability and integrity of our water and sewer systems. The Galvanized Line Replacement Project is a particularly important upgrade that will allow WCSA to continue providing Washington County residents with a source of safe, potable drinking water that meets or exceeds health standards and requirements for many years to come.”