In Depth with Brad Byrd

In-Depth with Brad Byrd: Allen Mounts

Brad: Welcome to InDepth. Tonight, what is going on beneath the streets of Evansville? It is no secret we have been battling water main breaks for years. Evansville is not alone - consider what has been going on in Owensboro this week. So what is the answer? More than a few people feel we have kicked the can down the road for decades. Well, the can has finally stopped rolling down the street - possibly in your neighborhood in the form of major construction that is expected to go on for years.

I'm joined tonight by Allen Mounts, Director of the Water and Sewer Utility in Evansville. It is called Project Refresh Evansville and it's going to be going on for a very long time. People are paying for it in a gradual stream of rate increases. What will you tell the rate payer considering all the construction that is going on right now? 

Allen Mounts: Well, I would say that we're upgrading the system, particularly water lines and other infrastructure that, you know, dates back to maybe the 1910's, 1920's, 30's, etc. It's very old. It's end of life and as you noted earlier, it's been breaking quite frequently. Actually on a faster rate than it is on a national average. So, one of the things we're after is providing reliable water service and in order to do that you have got to replace the systems - the water lines that are out there.


Brad: You told our crew Wednesday if Evansville sustained a break like what we saw in Owensboro, I'm not putting words in your mouth here, but you made it sound like that could be catastrophic.


Mounts: In my opinion, it would be. Certainly we would respond as quickly as we can, but the, the water lines which feed in the main artery that feed the rest of the system - a thousand miles of line - are large. They're 30 to 48 inches in size, they're 14 feet deep. When they break, the water's going to be shut off to certain areas of the city, depending upon how many of the lines break. So, businesses would not have water. Restaurants would not have water. Homes would not have water. Just similar to what Owensboro went through. We'd try to mobilize as quickly as we could but it could be 2 or 3 days before that's repaired.


Brad: Okay. How long are we talking about here? I mean, you.... 1,000 miles of pipeline and, and I asked you how would, how far would you drive if you drove 1,000 miles. 


Mounts: Well, if I got in my car today and took off, and headed up 41 to I-64 and started heading west I'd hit Denver. And that'd be about 1,000 miles.


Brad: We're talking about a thousand miles.


Mounts: That's a thousand miles and what people don't realize - we also sell water to Gibson County, Elberfeld, to, um, actually into Posey County. But it's a large system. Of that, 600 miles of it is really old cast iron pipe. I think the average age of it is about 90 years of age. It's end of life, it's what is causing the breaks. So, what we're doing with Refresh Evansville is said we're going to try to replace 15 miles a year. So, if you do the math on that, it takes 10 years to replace a 150 miles of that.


Brad: And Weinbach Avenue is a major project right now. How are you determining ok, we're gonna start here, but we may be several city blocks away we may be working on another project. How are you picking the areas that you are going to try to fix?


Mounts: You know, uh, probably, maybe 3 years ago. Where we started collecting water main break data and plotting it as to where we had more severe breaks in certain areas of the city than others.  The Weinbach area, bordered by Lincoln Avenue south all the way down to Pollack, is one of those hot spots towards 41. Weinbach is a major artery. That's, so it's based on water main break data, age of the pipes that are there. So we've been able to identify key areas where we want to attack those specific areas and try to fix neighborhoods, if you will.


Brad: And, let's talk about that concept of this new scenic mini water park splash pad down on the riverfront near the new water treatment, or sewer treatment facility. There has been some confusion on exactly how that's getting paid for. Walk me through that. 

Mounts: What we have to build there is related to the sewer project and it's called a pumping station, which is basically where waste water in cleaned up. It has to return to the river. Part of the overall design of that is to put that where Sunrise Park is today. And the reason for that is our main sewer line runs through that to the river. But the splash park really came about....the idea that....when we engaged Leadership Evansville to engaged the public for feedback, what do you want this to look like? And so there's a variety of feedback sessions and during one of those sessions somebody said "We'd love to have a splash park!" Well, that sounds very attractive but we haven't really reached the point to say that's part of the scope of the project. 

Brad: Those rate payers will be paying for that.

Mounts: Rate payers would be paying for it. So, we still have to work through what we are required to do. We want that to be an attractive area, but a splash park is something that would be nice to have but not necessarily essential to have. 

Brad: How much does this first major much is that going to cost?

Mounts: Are you talking about for the pumping station?

Brad: Everything that's going on right now.

Mounts: On the sewer side?

Brad: Give it to me on the sewer side.

Mounts: On the sewer side, well, for example the pumping station will probably design somewhere around the neighborhood of twenty-five million dollars.

Brad: And that's mandated by the...

Mounts: That's mandated by the EPA. Also, there's been some confusion over what people have called a waterfall feature. Yes, it is a cascade of water but can't drill a hole through the levy. We have to go over the levy. We have to build it in such a way that it satisfies the Corps of Engineers. 

Brad: And a lot of this is kind of changing the landscape of Evansville and people are seeing it in their neighborhoods. But you had told me that it's going to take maybe more than 10 years to get the Bee Slough issue resolved. I mean, it takes time to fix that.

Mounts: It takes time to do that. 

Brad: And, as far as the landscape of neighborhoods, it's the nature of the beast but, it still...
Mounts: I've used will be a mess. It maybe be a bit dramatic, but I've used the term, it's almost like we're invading a neighborhood. These are well established neighborhoods, you know, mature trees, nice lawns. It takes big equipment to go in and dig up the lines that are in the street.

Brad: Social media is having a field day with this. There's been some questions about this proposed rebuild of Walnut Street from downtown to Vann Avenue. This could impact rate payers if water lines have to be moved.

Mounts: And it could be. There are various projects that happen that we call road related relocation projects where as a result of projects happening within the road we have to move our water lines to get it out of a certain area. The other factor would be, certainly you don't want to install a new road and have an old water main system there that would break.

Brad: And you'd have to dig it right up.

Mounts: You'd come back along and dig it back up.

Brad: That's a complaint in every city.

Mounts: That would potentially happen so those sort of activities we would coordinate with a city engineer and others who are designing it. I know it's under discussion. I'm not sure what the timeline on it is. 

Brad: And finally, what about some of the historic neighborhoods downtown? The cobblestone street, First Street? Just southeast of downtown. 

Mounts: Our highest priorities right now....those are not the hot spots. 

Brad: By hotspot you mean?

Mounts: In terms of the most frequent water main breaks that occur. They do occur there, but not with the same frequency.

Brad: You would think that with those old, old pipes they would be in trouble.

Mounts: You would think that. One of the things I found out was that pipes built in the 1900s actually have a longer life span than those that were built during the World War periods.

Brad: And the reason for that is interesting.

Mounts: The reason is because the good quality steel and iron was redeployed for war purposes. The quality of the cast iron pipe was lesser quality so they break more frequently. So the Weinbach area headed towards 41 would probably be homes built back in that era.

Brad: Allen Mounts, thanks for talking about this tonight. I imagine we will be talking about this for a while.

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