By BEN MITCHELL
The city of Bingen has asked the state to loan over half a million dollars to help replace its disintegrating water pipes and loan application documents sent to Olympia show just how bad some of the lines are leaking.
On Feb. 21, city workers fixed a cracked water line on Steuben Street in downtown Bingen. The water from the leak had gradually eroded the ground underneath the roadway and caused a sinkhole to form near the thoroughfare's intersection with Walnut Street.
After the repair, the preliminary data showed that Bingen's water losses, known as distribution system leakage or DSL, went down significantly. Water production decreased from an average of 313,639 gallons per day to 181,655 gpd. According to loan application documents prepared by Vancouver engineering firm Gray & Osborne -- a company that has worked with the city on both water and wastewater projects in the past -- the leak on Steuben Street was bleeding 70 gallons per minute and was likely a leading culprit in Bingen's DSL issues.
Although the repair has helped put a bandage on the hemorrhaging water line, the city is still at risk for future leaks. The application states that "the examination of the existing steel line in Steuben Street indicates that leaks will be ongoing and endemic along its entire length."
As for the pipe running down Bingen Hill on Oak Street, appropriately referred to by the city as the "old line," the amount of water it leaks is less than the Steuben Street line. City Administrator Jan Brending estimated the old line is leaking 4.5 gpm or 200,000 gallons of water per month.
The application states that from 2006 to 2008, the old line lost an average of 84 percent of all the water that traveled through its perforated pipes. Brending said in an email to The Enterprise that she suspected the massive amount of leakage was "most likely based on a series of small holes over the length of the line."
The leaks carry more problems than just wasting water and money. The application mentions that "constant water line leakage in this situation can lead to roadway instability and failure."
There are also concerns of leaks causing cross connections, which were cited as a "public health hazard due to potential groundwater contamination of the municipal potable water supply."
The application reports that crusty deposits inside the narrow pipes could present a number of issues as well.
"The existing lines are three inches in diameter and are highly tuberculated," it says. "Tuberculation can create excessive chlorine demand and can harbor harmful bacteria which can periodically be released from the pipe walls to the water supply. In addition, the small diameter, highly constricted water lines cannot provide fire flow."
Brending admitted that Bingen could have its fire flow (water required to fight fires) improved in some areas, but said "the city has adequate fire flow to fight any fires within the city limits and at the Port of Klickitat."
As for the potential health risks, Brending said the city is keeping an eye on things.
"The city monitors and samples for any possible contamination of its water system," she explained. "I am not aware of any problems the city has had with cross connections."
The federal Environmental Protection Agency requires municipalities to provide notice to citizens annually of its drinking water quality. Bingen's last report, which was released in June 2011, showed that it had no violations and that contaminants found in the water were within acceptable limits.
While replacing the water lines is the top priority for Bingen, both Brending and Mayor Betty Barnes said during a March 7 city council meeting that "we can't do this project without a loan."
The city is hoping to land the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund loan, which is managed by the Washington State Department of Health and the Public Works Board. Bingen is requesting $559,944 in funding for the project, which would replace 570 feet of the Steuben Street line and 1,800 feet of the old line, both of which are made of steel three inches in diameter.
Construction costs would comprise $375,000 of the $559,944 total and would replace the old line with six-inch ductile iron and the Steuben Street line with six-inch PVC pipe. A pressure reducing valve would result in lower line pressures which would reduce leaks and cross connections. More fire hydrants would also be added and the larger pipe diameters would provide better fire flow.
Brending said it could take up to six months for the city to find out if it received the loan from the state, and construction would not be able to start until 2013. She noted that Bingen is gunning for this particular loan because of low-interest rates that would be available to the city due to its low income level. The application was filed on March 1.
If the city does get the loan, Brending said it would be repaid by water bill revenues and out of monies from Bingen's water fund. She did not expect but did not rule out increases in customers' water bills to help pay for the project.
"At the present time, we do not anticipate the rates going up except as provided in the city's ordinance, which is 5 percent each year," Brending explained. "However, it is possible that the rates might have to increase further due to the loan payment and other increases in expenditures."