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City plans improvements to aging water system
By JAYSON JACOBY
Of the Baker City Herald
The water flowing from Baker City faucets today splashed its way to your home through the same pipes that were in place when Americas favorite car was the Model T.
The pipes are old, to put it another way.
Joints that leaked an occasional drop or two during World War II now emit a steady trickle.
No single joint is a big problem.
The problem, said Gary Van Patten, the citys technical services supervisor, is that theres more than just a few joints.
There are thousands, he said.
And those thousands of little leaks have convinced city officials to plan the most ambitious public works project in the citys watershed since that original concrete pipeline was laid down about a century ago.
Over the next seven years or so, the city plans to replace a 6-mile section of its main water supply line, and to install a new pipe linking Goodrich Lake, the citys only storage reservoir, to an existing supply line.
The work will cost an estimated $2.5 million to $3.2 million, Van Patten said. It shouldnt interupt water service to Baker City homes and businesses.
In the past the city has spent most of the money it collects from water bills to maintain and improve the network of pipes that delivers water throughout the city, he said. That system is now in good condition, Van Patten said.
Weve got a really tight distribution system, he said.
More recently city officials have recognized that they need to shift their focus to the antique pipes that collect and carry water from the citys 10,000-acre watershed in the Elkhorn Mountains about eight miles west of town.
Nothing lasts forever, Van Patten said.
But it wasnt until the City Council raised water rates last year that city officials could add multimillion-dollar projects to future budgets, he said.
When we asked for the rate increases it was with this work in mind, Van Patten said.
Construction on the Goodrich project is scheduled to start in 2003, and should be finished by 2005.
Replacing the supply line between Little Salmon Creek and the Elk Creek settling tank is slated to start in 2005, and will take at least four years, Van Patten said.
The new pipe for both projects is made of ductile iron, and the sections will be connected with water-tight joints that will greatly reduce leakage.
It will save a substantial amount of water, Van Patten said.
And that means more water will flow to the city, reducing the risk of shortages even in the worst of droughts, he said.
Pipeline replacement: Little Salmon Creek to Elk Creek settling tank
Like the rest of what the city calls its mountain line, this section of concrete pipe is original, Van Patten said.
Its unlikely the workers who laid the pipe thought it would still be carrying water to Baker City a century or more later.
Its just an old line thats nearing the end of its design life, certainly, Van Patten said.
The city and its engineering consultant, Anderson-Perry and Associates, chose to replace the Little Salmon Creek to Elk Creek section first for one reason in particular, he said.
The pipeline in that area is exposed in many places, and covered with only a thin layer of soil in others.
As a result, the city cant run big trucks and other heavy equipment on the dirt road that runs on top of the pipeline, because the vehicles weight could crack the brittle concrete, Van Patten said.
But the city wants to bring in big machinery to log overcrowded forests along the road to reduce the fire danger, he said.
When the pipe was installed there were no big trucks, of course, so workers simply laid the pipe in the bed of the old Auburn Ditch and filled in the shallow trench with rocks and dirt, Van Patten said.
Before the city places the new ductile iron pipe, workers will deepen that trench, he said.
During the late summer and early fall much of Baker Citys water comes from Goodrich Lake, 3,400 feet above Baker Valley at the base of Elkhorn Peaks nearly sheer east face.
But before the lakes water reaches the pipeline that carries it across Baker Valley, it careens down more than two miles of Goodrich Creeks steep, rocky gorge.
During that journey an unknown amount of water evaporates or soaks into the ground, Van Patten said.
Diverting that water into a 12-inch ductile iron pipe will eliminate those losses and bolster the citys water supply, Van Patten said.
And the new pipe will benefit the city in another way, he said.
If a fire ever sweeps through the watershed, ash and dirt probably would foul streams that flow through the burned area, rendering their water too dirty to drink, at least temporarily.
Goodrich Lake is near timberline, though, and probably wouldnt be affected by a fire.
But the potential problem still exists of how to bring the pure lake water to town, were a fire to scorch the gorge below the lake.
The new pipe will solve that dilemma, Van Patten said.
It will be buried four feet deep and thus protected from fire debris, allowing the city to bring water from the lake any time, Van Patten said.
Both watershed projects and the Goodrich pipe installation in particular will challenge engineers.
Parts of the watershed are steep enough to scare a mountain goat, and rocks are in no place scarce.
As Van Patten wrote in the citys five-year water capital plan: Construction activities in the watershed will be full of opportunities. We will have the opportunity to learn about digging in rock, about transporting large diameter pipes on steep and winding forest roads . . .
Van Patten said he doesnt know how much of the work city crews will do, and how much will be let to contractors.
Certainly the city will hire outside experts to blast rock during the Goodrich project, he said.
Replacing the section of mountain line between Little Salmon Creek and the Elk Creek settling tank will be simpler because the terrain isnt as steep and the rocks not quite so plentiful.
Well still run into some hard digging there too, Van Patten said.