PRWID oversees complex water distribution process
When water leaves the Price River Water Improvement District treatment plant in Price Canyon it has a long way to travel before it gets to residential, industrial and municipal customers. Altogether the district has 157 miles of main lines to maintain and take care of, and the regular upkeep on the system is not as simple as just fixing water leaks when they pop up.
"We supply water to a lot of people, to small water companies and to towns in the county," said Jeff Richens, the district manager for PRWID. "The main line, which is 30 inches wide, starts at the water plant and almost all the water that is supplied to our customers is brought to them courtesy of gravity."
Richens says, in fact there is such a drop from the canyon into the valley that the district must have a series of pressure reducers on the main lines to keep them from being ripped apart by the pressure.
However there are four exceptions to the gravity feed system. One is Kenilworth, where water must be pumped uphill to reach the tank that supplies the little town. Another is on Airport Road where a pump supplies the water to the customers in that area, including the Price airport. One more exists at the Hill subdivision near Gordon Creek Road. Finally, there is a commercial customer south of Price that has water pumped to it as well.
But most of the water that comes to customers falls by way of gravity and is taken through a tank system before it ever reaches their taps.
"In a sense a tank is just a wide spot in the pipe," said Richens jokingly. "And our various storage tanks around the county give us the capability to keep up with demand, especially when there is high demand."
High demand comes in the summer time when the plant pumps through almost over four million gallons per day. But it also can take place if a large fire occurs in the area. With 422 fire hydrants on the districts system, those large valves also become another problem for the district.
"We have to go through and test all the fire hydrants twice a year to make sure they will operate in an emergency," said Scott Jensen, assistant superintendent of maintenance for PRWID. "We have to operate each hydrant and make sure they are serviced with oil and grease. We also have to check to be sure residents in the area haven't obscured the hydrants."
Jensen says that sometimes people will landscape around hydrants, which can hide them from fire fighters who might need them.
"We have even had people paint them a different color," he said. "We have people say that they just didn't match with what they were trying to do in their yard."
However, the biggest problem the district runs into concerning hydrants is that people hit the structures with vehicles and do not report the mishaps.
The valves actually close off the system at the bottom of the riser. So when the hydrants are hit, they usually won't gush in geyser as people often seen on television shows.
But if the hydrants are damaged and then were turned on, the tops can blow off.
The district also has literally thousands of various kinds of valves on the distribution system. The valves are located throughout the county. These need to be tested each year, too, and repaired if necessary.
Some of the valves are located at the bottom of risers and have a cap on the top of those risers.
"Problem is that sometimes they get covered over by residents and construction people," said Jensen. "And sometimes, kids take the caps off and dump rocks or dirt into the riser. We have to make sure these valves stay accessible."
The pressure reduction valves that are on the lines because of the gravity feed also need to be overhauled once every three years and checked once a month.
There are 100 of the pressure reduction valves in the system as well.
Air relief valves also exist in a number of places around the system.
At last count, 150 of the relief valves must be winterized in the fall or they can cause a large break which could be costly and time consuming to repair.
"In some places the lines push water uphill by the gravity feed and air can build up in the lines," said Jensen. "If those valves don't work right we can have a mess."
PRWID's major line is made of steel. Older steel lines can carrode quickly underground so the district uses cathodic protection for those lines. That means they must maintain the rectifiers and anode beds alongside the pipes to prevent corrosion and keep the pipes in one piece. The maintenance crew must test the pipes anti-rust system every three months and must also check the joints in the pipe every three years. This is done with special equipment which measure the continuity of the system. If there are problems in a section, then the pipes may have to be dug up and repaired.
The district maintenance crew also has to worry about the chemistry of the water going into homes and businesses. Each month, the PRWID employees must take 10 bacteriological samples in various places in the system and have them analyzed. They must also send 15 chlorine samples from the system to the state each month.
The chlorination is done at the water plant. When it comes out of the cleaning and disinfecting process, the water contains two to three parts of chlorine per million. But by the time the water gets to people's taps in the valley the chlorine has dissipated to about .2 parts per million.
Infrastructure like the district's lines do not last forever. There are 11 places in the system that are termed "dead end lines." The areas can get stale water in them so they must be flushed at least once a week so the water will be fresh for residents that are on the parts of the system.
"Sometimes, it takes a great deal of time for that water to run through until it is fresh," said Jensen.
Along with all the maintenance on the water lines, the equipment and the tests that must be done regularly to comply with drinking water standards, the maintenance department must also set meters for new buildings or homes and, once installed, someone must read the meters.
The process has gotten easier because about 50 percent of the district's retail customers have electronic meters which can be read without having to pull off the lids.
"The electronic readers are great, but people need to be careful around our meters," said Jensen. "The cap for the electronic meter is plastic and if people burn weeds around these meters they can melt those caps and destroy the unit," he said. "They also sometimes will get a frozen meter during the winter for some reason and then they put a torch in the meter box to warm it up. Obviously that destroys the meter too."
Repairing the damage can run between $200-$300 per meter, just for the parts.
"If you have a problem with a frozen meter, call us," he said.
Jensen, who has spent 25 years with PRWID, indicated that the biggest change he has seen is the vast growth of the the water district's system.
"It just keeps getting larger and larger and more complicated," he said. "We have gone up many times in size, yet our number of staff in the maintenance department has only gone up a small amount during that time."
The entire system is taken care of by nine people. The group of employees must also maintain the sewer collection system as well as the water system.
And that last maintenance job presents an entirely different set of problems for the water supply system.
Editors note: Today's story is the third in a series of five articles concerning the infrastructure PRWID has in place for the distribution of water and the collection of sewage in Carbon County.