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Published: January 15, 2020

Iron City water project cuts waste and resident bills

Late last year we launched the application process for a new Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) that we hope will take water lines into some areas where residents depend on wells.

Roads that are not too sparsely populated and have a majority of residents with moderate to low incomes are potential candidates for these improvements. Surveys are being done door-to-door and by mail in a couple of areas now. Please help yourself and your neighbors by responding to those questionnaires.

We are eligible to apply for this new grant because a CDBG project funded two years ago will be finished at the end of this month. 

A 2018 grant of $525,000 with our match of $58,333 has been used to address issues in the Iron City water system. Two years ago, leaks were causing the loss of about 70% of the water Iron City Utility District customers were buying from the City of St. Joseph.

In addition to the simple waste of a valuable commodity – water treated for household use - Iron City residents were paying approximately $20,000 a month for water that was soaking into the ground. Because that cost was shared by just 245 customers, they had unnecessarily high water bills.

Rye Engineering of Erin, Tennessee specializes in water loss management and conducted the project in two phases. The first worked to find the leaks; the second installed new water valves, mains, service lines, hydrants, pressure relief valves, and meters. Engineer Seth Rye said several factors made both phases more challenging than expected.

Despite its huge water loss, the Iron City system was in relatively good shape for its age, he said. Cast iron pipes just don’t survive 60+ years underground.

Inside the pipes, minerals and other materials build up and “rust bubbles” develop. Elements in the soil damage and weaken the exterior; the ground shifts as it freezes and thaws, and pipes break.

Leaking or not, the pipes were hard to locate because the system wasn’t mapped very well when it was installed in the 1950s. That created a need for a lot of hand-digging in soil that has “lots of rocks” and a high chert content. That meant leaks soaked into the ground and didn’t create the puddles that make them easy to find.

Ray Contractors of Lynnville, Tennessee had almost completed PVC pipe installation and other improvements, but water losses were still fairly significant. One big reason was discovered in a line that was no longer serving anyone on Hannah Street, but was losing 4,500 gallons a day. It was cut and capped on January 3, less than two weeks ago.

Rye said a majority of the issues have been addressed. Grant funds couldn’t cover an entirely new water system, but employees of the Water District are now better prepared to address problems and continue the loss reduction. “Part of the project was installing monitoring equipment so Iron City Water District employees will know when leaks start.” That system sends data to cell phones and desktop computers.

CDBG grants have brought many improvements to Lawrence County including fire trucks in Loretto and St. Joseph; weather warning sirens in Loretto, St. Joseph, and Ethridge; an emergency response vehicle in Ethridge; sewer system rehabilitation in Lawrenceburg; and water line extensions from Appleton to Piney. Staff at South Central Tennessee Development District do a great job helping us apply for the grants and managing projects that are funded.