Problems plague pipeline


By Mike Kroll

Following water shortages and the fiery consumption of Galesburg's Carnegie Library the city council made a fateful decision that has been widely hailed ever since — Galesburg would cease its reliance on well water by constructing a 32 mile long pipeline to the Mississippi River. It would be difficult to name another city council decision that has had the impact of this one. Over the 46 years since construction of this pipeline communities all around Galesburg have faced increasing problems due to their continued reliance on well water, three have even contracted with Galesburg to buy some of this water. Today this pipeline that was designed with a 100-year lifespan is facing serious problems that will cost Galesburg millions of dollars to to rectify. While it is easily understandable that any public works project like this will suffer wear and tear over time the sad fact is that decades of deferred maintenance and improper operation have drastically reduced the realistic lifespan of this critical pipeline.

It was just two years ago when neighboring Monmouth was considering purchase of water from Galesburg that city officials first began to publicly acknowledge that something would soon need to be done about this pipeline. At the time Galesburg city manager Gary Goddard and public works director Larry Cox were talking about how the anticipated Monmouth revenue could be used to help finance construction of a parallel pipeline and a second Ranney collector at the Oquawka origin of the pipeline. During the Monmouth discussions Goddard and Cox estimated the cost of constructing this parallel pipeline at "around $18 million." As it turns out that figure appears extremely optimistic. Current Galesburg water superintendent Kris Hatfield told me today that it would likely cost upwards of $42 million to construct a parallel pipeline today but such a cost could be avoided by an alternative plan.

"When I first arrived in Galesburg I knew that this was an aging water system that would present lots of challenges but I have discovered since that in many respects things are a lot worse than I imagined," explained Hatfield when I asked about his first year on the job. I interviewed Hatfield when he first arrived in town one year ago and promised that I would return for a follow up. For a variety of reasons I suspected that the condition of the Galesburg water infrastructure was in much worse shape than anyone in the public suspected. Chief among my concerns was the status of the Oquawka pipeline. There has been both public and private discussions about an increasing number of leaks in this pipeline leading Goddard and Cox to contemplate the parallel pipeline project.

"There have been a good number of leaks over the last ten or eleven years," said Hatfield, "but what really caused me concern about the pipeline was a 20 million gallon discrepancy in the amount of water pumped at Oquawka versus what arrived at the Galesburg plant. As it turned out we weren't really losing that much water but rather mis-measuring the volumes pumped. It was a calibration error. While we haven't been losing this huge amount of water my concerns led me to begin examining the pipeline closely and I kept uncovering more and more reasons for concern. This pipeline was designed and constructed to last for 100 years yet it shows wear well beyond its present age. Evaluation of the records plus discussion with my staff led me to conclude that not only has the pipeline not been properly maintained but that operational errors have only made these problems worse."

The 32-mile long pipeline is constructed of concrete pipe sections of 36-inch and 42-inch diameter joined with steel couplings. The 36-inch sections of the pipeline is denoted as high pressure pipe and the 42-inch sections are considered low pressure. Six huge pumps located at Oquawka are used in combination to pump water from the river up hill toward Galesburg with the high pressure pipeline nearest the river. I asked Hatfield why the entire pipeline wasn't constructed of high pressure pipe and he said he had no idea. There appears to be surprisingly little documentation on not only the pipeline itself but the entire Galesburg water system. Hatfield showed me the single set of "as-built" drawings for the pipeline that Galesburg possesses and said he considers himself lucky to have these.

When Hatfield's curiosity was piqued he began to study the record of pipeline leaks and discovered that they were mostly concentrated in small easily identifiable sections of the pipeline. This fall Hatfield went to Cox and Goddard about the serious potential problems in the pipeline and asked to put out a request for proposals from engineering firms to correct the most pressing problems. According to the resulting one-page RFP for a "Transmission Line Study" these leaks began occurring "in 1993 and have increased exponentially over the last 11 years (26 breaks). All breaks have occurred at the top of the pipe at the joints where deflections in elevations occur. Removal of the concrete at the break areas has shown extensive deterioration of the steel banding within the pipe. Further investigations have shown that appurtenances designed in the original construction have had little or no maintenance in the first 46 years of the 100-year design life of the pipeline."

The high pressure sections of the pipeline were designed for a maximum sustainable pressure of 150 pounds per square inch (PSI) but for decades monthly "surge events" were conducted to help clear deposits of iron and manganese rust from accumulating along points of the pipeline. "This accumulation affects the aesthetics ans quality of the water being served to the 30 customers services by the 90 tap in the pipeline [between Oquawka and the Galesburg Plant]. The past practice has been to 'surge' the pipeline (reverse the flow) to clean the sediment each month. This surge process creates a tremendous vacuum after the surge, water moving in reverse meets with water going towards the City, creating a tremendous hammer effect. This hammering effect produces pressure drops and surges exceeding the design capacity of the pipeline, wearing out joints and effectively reducing the life of the pipe, which can be seen in the referenced breaks."

The original design of the pipeline anticipated not only the need to regularly "surge" the pipeline but also the possible negative effects this process could have on the pipe and joints. The engineers built-in "pressure relief valves and blow offs [at key locations along the pipeline] to essentially release the air form the pipeline during [surges] to reduce wear and dissipate the energy. Also included in the design were gate valves that could be used to isolate sections of the pipeline for maintenance. These elements of design no longer function and will need to be rehabilitated to reduce pipeline wear and extend life."

The simple fact is that no evidence exists to show that these pressure relief vales, blow-offs or gate valves were ever properly used or maintained over more that four decades of pipeline use. According to Hatfield all of these pipeline features have decayed or broken and are currently useless. Just as in our homes, strategically placed operable valves are critical to the proper maintenance of a water system and in this critical Galesburg lifeline not one works today. If there were a major break anywhere along the pipeline no means is available today to isolate that section of pipe for repair. The entire pipeline would need to be shut down by stopping the Oquawka pumps and waiting until the water remaining in the pipeline simply leaked out.

It is nothing less than appalling that the crown jewel of Galesburg's infrastructure has been allowed to deteriorate to such an extent that it is a disaster waiting to occur. And this is the direct result of deferred maintenance and serious operational errors at the Water Department. From all appearances this situation with the pipeline is but the tip of the iceberg in a water system that has been improperly maintained or funded for decades. It is a simple bookkeeping exercise to determine that with Galesburg present water rate structure we can barely afford to maintain the status quo much less begin to address the costly repairs and upgrades that are needed yet just this month the city council is set to approve a token rate increase for the largest water users yielding a paltry $25,000 extra annual income for the water fund.

At this point in time the RFP has been sent out to qualified engineering firms for a study and proposed remediation plan to replace the valves and blow-offs in the pipeline. Hatfield is extremely concerned about the potential for serious interruption in Galesburg water service if the pipeline fails. "I need engineers with extensive experience in water systems and pipelines such as ours to take a close look at this situation and make cost effective recommendations. There is no way I can see of us replacing the existing pipeline due to the huge expense but even repair of the existing pipeline is damn near impractical in its current state."

Hatfield is reluctant to guess at the cost of replacing the valves and blow-offs, "that's what we're hiring the engineers to tell me," but he guesses that the repair cost will be a minimum of about one million dollars. When this is done he expects to have the pipeline segmented into approximately two mile long sections separated by gate valves and access ports. This would allow each section of pipeline to be isolated in place for repair as needed and would make it possible to explore the option of relining the pipeline as an alternative to replacing it.

Hatfield tries to offer the potential for good news out of this situation. "Today a number of relining alternatives exist that could help us extend the life of the present pipeline well beyond its design life at much lower cost than replacement. An interior lining system not unlike that used by the sanitary district on sewers could be used or we could possible coat the outside of the pipeline with some form of plastic material. Whatever we do we need to build in protection from rust, a problem that plagues our entire water system. None of these alternatives will be cheap but they all compare favorably to the alternative of replacement which is frankly well beyond our financial means."