Newark water main broke amid plans to assess risk of water main break

August 24, 2022

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A water main break that cut off or reduced flow to kitchen sinks, bathtubs and toilets in 100,000 Newark households earlier this month came as city officials prepared to assess the likelihood of ruptures along 30 miles of major transmission lines, city officials told NJ Advance Media. .

A request for proposals to conduct the citywide assessment is expected to be issued in September, according to the Newark Department of Water & Sewer Utilities. The assessment aims to identify weak points in the system and categorize them for replacement repairs to anticipate precisely the type of failure that occurred on August 9, said Kareem Adeem, the director of the department.

The timing of the break and the plans for the evaluation are coincidental, Adeem said. But he acknowledged the pause underscores the need to identify and prioritize potential weak spots, and design repairs or replacements as soon as possible to take advantage of federal funding that will be available over the next five years. from the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan. Infrastructure Act approved by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden last year.

“We had this already planned,” Adeem said at the Friday break site in Essex County’s Branch Brook Park, just across the border from Newark in Belleville.

Accompanied by the supervising engineer of the water and sewerage department, Zehra Karim, Adeem stood at the edge of a 14-foot-deep pit, where utility workers who had already removed the length cast iron pipe broken were preparing to install a water main. family spa size shut off valve.

A lone worker from the city contractor, Lodi-based Montana Construction, stood at the bottom of the pit, where a large steel trench kept the surrounding earth from collapsing on top of him and the two open mouths of a 42 inch cast iron. transmission line deep below the surface of Branch Brook Park Drive.

The pipe had ruptured 10 days earlier, spewing 25,000 gallons of clean water per minute and washing away soil under the park road. Tuesday morning’s main break opened a sinkhole that swallowed a Toyota shortly after its driver fled, then shut off or reduced water pressure in much of the state’s largest city and in several surrounding towns for the next day and a half.

The loss of pressure triggered a boil water advisory that remained in effect until the following Saturday, while city workers handed out bottled water in the sweltering heat.

The precise reason for the break is still under investigation, department officials said this week, with a metals lab analyzing the broken section of the main. It is one of three large parallel pipelines through the park, carrying drinking water from the town’s Pequannock Water Treatment Plant approximately 40 miles to West Milford. The plant sits in Newark’s 37,000-acre Pequannock Watershed, a verdant preserve that spans parts of Morris, Passaic and Sussex counties and is home to the city’s five reservoirs.

Adeem decided to take advantage of the excavation needed to repair the breach by installing a shut-off valve at the same time, in the same hole in the ground. If a main rupture occurred downstream of the valve, he said, it would allow officials to stem the flow of water gushing out of the system faster than crews were able to during the break in this month, minimizing pressure loss.

The valve cost $60,000, in addition to $40,000 to repair the rupture, the department said.

“We will take the opportunity for the future, if a break should occur we can do things much faster,” said Adeem, who runs a water and sewer utility with 195 employees and a budget of $125 million. “We want to be resilient. We can close a valve, which would stop bringing water here, and let the system pressure build up.

The same forward-thinking approach to maintaining the city’s water supply prompted Adeem and his boss, Mayor Ras Baraka, to assess Newark’s major transmission lines.

Adeem said the city hopes to use some of the $50 billion in federal funding earmarked for water and sewer projects under the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by Congress and signed by President Biden last year. But how much Newark will be able to rely on the infrastructure law was in doubt Monday, when Garden State officials were bitterly disappointed by an analysis of how much each state would receive from an initial allocation from the law.

Specifically, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s analysis related to $15 billion earmarked in the law specifically to replace lead service lines, which connect single homes and businesses to municipal distribution lines.

With approximately 350,000 lead service lines still posing a health risk in New Jersey, the $48 million expenditure announced for the Garden State came to $138 per line, the second highest funding rate. bottom of all states after Ohio, and a fraction of the thousands. it costs to replace each row. I

It is, at least, a segment of Newark’s water infrastructure that the city no longer has to worry about. Following a crisis of high lead levels in its drinking water dating back to at least 2016, the city has become a national model for its rapid replacement of more than 23,000 lead pipes with safe copper pipes, a job completed this winter in just over three years after initial projections, it would take almost a decade.

The city received praise from environmental groups, local and state county governments, and Vice President Kamala Harris during a visit to the city. Both Baraka and Adeem testified before Congress on how Newark handled the task, which included state-of-the-art replacement techniques, as well as state and local legislation allowing the city to perform the work on private property without the consent of the owners.

While hoping the federal government will help Newark with any water main replacement projects identified by the upcoming assessment, Adeem said the city would do the work on its own or with other funding if needed.

For example, the Newark projects, including the $190 million lead line replacement program and a $23 million upgrade to the Pequannock mill that began in April, were funded by loans from Essex County and the New Jersey Infrastructure Bank.

“Newark is used to making big plans,” he said,

Newark’s service line replacement has made Adeem and Baraka household names in infrastructure circles across the country, including the Denver-based company American Water Works Association.

Kurt Vause, former chairman of the association’s Water Utility Council, credited Newark’s mayor and water manager for leading an extensive primary assessment that may end up revealing the need for major replacement projects. or maintenance.

He said assessments done proactively rather than in response to pauses are becoming common in major cities across the country, which also hope federal infrastructure money will help pay for needed projects that may be identified.

“It’s an emerging best practice, and it’s becoming much more common due to the upcoming infrastructure law,” said Vause, former water manager for the city of Anchorage, Alaska, where freezing temperatures present a particular challenge.

As infrastructure spending has become a more common topic of public discussion and the added prospect of federal largesse makes it more palatable to taxpayers and elected officials, Vause said water and sewer upgrades may still be a tough sell in the face of competing demands for public spending. .

“It’s a balancing act to try to figure out the best way to continue to serve your service area in a safe way to protect public health,” Vause said. “We can all imagine situations where there’s a lot of pressure on policy makers to maintain the spending line while you have these emerging conditions that need attention.”

A sinkhole in Branch Brook Park in Belville caused by a water main break earlier in the week was dug Thursday to repair the broken main and install a shut-off valve. Tuesday’s break cut off or reduced water pressure for 100,000 households in Newark.Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

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Steve Strunsky can be reached at [email protected]