Water department plans infrastructure overhaul

With last month’s rate hike in Greensboro the Water Department is accelerating replacement of water and sewer lines across the city, as well as improving several of its treatment facilities.

Steven Drew, Director of Water Resources, said that when he became director five years ago he identified a need to rehabilitate water and sewer lines at a faster rate than the city currently does.

“Right now we’re at about a 160 year replacement cost,” Drew said. “In other words if I put a stick of pipe in the ground today, at the rate of funding for maintenance and replacement, we would be able to afford to come back to it, but it wouldn’t be for another 160 years.”

Drew said the current plan aims for a 100 year replacement cost, which is the average life cycle of a pipe.

Drew said that lines left untended can leak, eroding the soil underneath and causing sinkholes. When sewer lines are neglected they can even bubble up into storm water drains.

“When you drive down the street you’ll see manholes periodically, usually every 500 feet or so,” Drew said. “Then the sewage will back up into a manhole and blow the manhole during a heavy rain event and then you have raw sewage running down the street to the storm sewer side of the street and then once it finds the storm sewer where does it end up? It ends up in the nearest creek.”

City staff can monitor the lines via video cameras installed during regular maintenance, deciding which lines to prioritize based on condition.

Barry Parsons, Water Supply Manager, said they are working to improve the Lake Townsend Plant by adding new equipment to streamline the water treatment process.

Parsons said they are also looking to put sensors in the lake itself to find contaminants closer to the source; pilot tests for that project are slated to begin this fall.

Deciding what to put in is an exhaustive process, with city staff touring other facilities across the state to see what will work for Greensboro.

“When we put something in we don’t want it to last a couple years, we want it to last a couple decades,” Parsons said.

The city is also decommissioning the North Buffalo Water Reclamation Facility and is planning improvements to increase the capacity of the TZ Osborne facility to fully handle the city’s waste water load.

Elijah Williams, Water Reclamation Manager, said the North Buffalo facility would be unable to meet upcoming regulatory standards on nitrogen and phosphorous levels.

Drew said the North Buffalo plant is almost 100 years old and that the decision to close it down was made about 10 years ago.

Williams said TZ Osborne’s capacity will be increased to 56 million gallons a day, up from 40 mgd, by diverting water from the North Buffalo plant and increasing the amount of waste water that can be held at TZ Osborne.

Williams said the $110 million project to improve the TZ Osborne facility also increases compliance with stricter nitrogen regulations.

Martie Groome, Industrial Waste/Laboratory Services Supervisor, said they expect to be in compliance with the regulations by 2020. Groome said other facilities in the state will likely be in compliance by around 2023-2024.

Williams said other improvements at TZ Osborne will be to increase efficiency.

“That’s one of the things that we’re constantly trying to do is how can we save on energy?” Williams said. “How can we save as far as maintenance time? How can we save as far as footprint?” Williams said he expects the work at TZ Osborne to be done by June of 2020.

Drew said the Water Resources Department tries to reach out to the city population, especially its younger residents, to stress the importance of maintaining water infrastructure.

The Water Services Department offers tours and environmental programs for children through area public schools.

Williams said there are also plans to convert parts of the North Buffalo plant into an educational facility, giving college students in the area a chance to get hands on training with the equipment there.

Williams said the plans for repurposing the Buffalo plant are still pending approval from the city but that once completed could provide practical experience while demonstrating the importance of the Water Resources Department.

“Part of the strategy is to reach out to young people, to not only educate them on what the water system does and how it works, but even to interest people as a possible career path,” Drew said. !