Report looks at PUB needs

Burgess and Niple project engineer Lise Sibicky outlines an evaluation of the needs of the Parkersburg Utility Board’s water system during the PUB’s board meeting Wednesday. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

PARKERSBURG — The Parkersburg Utility Board received a report Wednesday on more than $20 million in potential upgrades and repairs to its water system.

Over the next few months, the board and staff will be tasked with deciding which of those projects to pursue, in what order and how to pay for them.

The most expensive items involve upgrading infrastructure in the form of replacing 6- and 8-inch water mains with new and in some cases larger lines and completing an effort to replace existing water meters with more accurate devices that can be read via radio signal instead of manually. The large-diameter water main replacement is projected to cost $6.138 million. Approximately 2,000 of the utility’s 16,000 meters in and around Parkersburg have been replaced. Doing the rest would cost an estimated $6 million for the devices and contracted installation, said Lise Sibicky, project engineer for Burgess and Niple.

Utility Board Manager Eric Bennett considers the water mains the top priority.

“Aging pipes need to be replaced due to failure, as well as upsized to improve the capacity and flow throughout the system,” he said.

More than 19,000 linear feet of small-diameter water lines — 2 inches or smaller — are recommended for eventual replacement, at an estimated cost of $3.3 million. The reasons are the same as for the larger lines.

“Most of them would be upgraded to 6 (inches), and some of them would be upgraded to 4,” Sibicky said.

As part of legislation passed in response to the 2014 chemical spill into the Elk River, utilities like the utility board are required to investigate back-up water supply options. Sibicky said the utility board’s well No. 2 could be converted to take in water from the Ohio River. The well is one of three on the river’s east bank, all of which draw ground water.

“It’s one of the lower-producing wells,” Sibicky said.

Outfitting the well to draw river water through underground, screened intake pipes would cost approximately $2.7 million, she said.

“It’s probably the only viable option we have for an alternate source, but it’s not preferable,” Bennett said, noting groundwater is better protected from contamination. “It’s easier for somebody to dump something in an open body of water and quickly contaminate the source than it is groundwater.”

Improving water pressure for certain south Parkersburg customers could be accomplished with fixes ranging from $1 million to $4.7 million, Sibicky said.

Other projects include repairing the water treatment plant’s backwash settling basin for $570,000 or replacing it for $1 million and replacing the aging media in the plants filters for an estimated $824,000. Bennett said the last time the filter media were replaced it was done in two stages.

A less expensive but important course of action would be a system-wide leak survey. Roughly 23 percent of the water in the utility board system is unaccounted for, Sibicky said, meaning it is lost from the system through leaks, theft of water service and firefighting activities.

Board Vice Chairman John Lutz asked how that number compares to other West Virginia utilities. Sibicky said the West Virginia Public Service Commission considers 15 percent a good goal. Craig Richards, a project engineer with Burgess and Niple, said he’s seen utilities in Ohio and West Virginia with percentages in the 30s and 40s.

“To my knowledge, we’re probably in the norm,” Bennett said.