This line from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge probably sounds familiar to anyone from Barcelona who was at a special meeting regarding its water supply.
Around 50 people, including the Town and Village of Westfield boards and employees, attended the meeting to learn about the state of Barcelona’s water system. Most recently, a boil water order was issued on Sept. 6 due to the water system losing pressure because of a major break in the water main. When the distribution pipes and mains lose pressure, it increases the chance that untreated water and harmful microbes could enter the system.
Town Supervisor Martha Bills started off the meeting by giving a little history of the situation.
“We are working hard on your behalf,” Bill said. “I know that it’s discouraging and I don’t blame anybody for your frustration and being upset. I was upset and you were more upset not having water for a week.”
The issue which has recently reached its breaking point is that the piping used to create the Barcelona Water District was put in place in the 1940’s and 50’s and was done so with copper and galvanized pipes with private funds. Those pipes are now beginning to break down and leak thus causing entry points for groundwater into the system and a loss in pressure which allows that groundwater to enter the system and can leave some homes without water. In the last 10 days before the meeting held Wednesday, Sept. 21, three different breaks had occurred.
“When we have a break the size of my finger, people notice it,” Village of Westfield Public Works Supervisor Ed LeBarron said.
“In this day in age, people should have good water, but it’s very expensive,” Bills said.
These failing pipes have been an issue the Town of Westfield has been trying to solve for eight years by applying for grants from various agencies, but to no avail. However, the problem cannot wait for grant approval any longer. Up until now the Village of Westfield has been fixing leaks in the system, but according to LeBarron, there are certain sections of that piping which cannot be fixed again; it will have to be replaced.
“They have been working hard to get grants,” LeBarron said. “I don’t understand why they’re not.”
LeBarron proposed a five phase solution to the water issue which would replace the 4- and 1-inch piping currently in the ground, only 2 or 3 feet deep in some places, with 12- and 8-inch piping with water coming from two directions so that if here is a leak, that section of piping can be isolated without complete loss of water to the system. LeBarron also said the Village of Westfield workers would be able to perform the work to replace the system, thus saving the town the higher cost of hiring a contractor.
The two looming issues over the project are how to pay for it and that the project may take two to three years, meaning the current system has to remain functional until the new system is ready. A current cost for the project is still undetermined as the town just approved a RFP for an engineer on Sept. 20 and have to wait until the three-week bid process. One other issue is how to get piping under Route 5. This could be done one of two ways — by boring a hole or by cutting the road.
In the mean time, the village will be installing a pressure regulator and will be reducing the pressure in the system in order to not put so much stress on the old piping. However, since there are some 1-inch pipes with 10 homes hooked up to it, this may cause some people to not have water.
“If we don’t reduce the pressure on the line, we are due for a major break that we’re not going to be able to fix,” LeBarron said. “We have to do something until we can get something replaced on the system.”
Audience members were able to ask questions during the meeting and quite a few centered around why this issue is not seen as an emergency situation since some people do not have water or because fire trucks currently cannot hook into the system and why grants and other funding options have not been approved. Unfortunately, there were no good answers for them. Others expressed their frustration at seeing Forest Park, Edgewater, the Town of Portland and the Town of Brocton having a better system than Barcelona or improving their system while Barcelona’s system continues to deteriorate.
The message to Barcelona residents by the end of the meeting was that the water situation is urgent and is being handled as such. Bills said that as the town gets more answers, those will be passed along to residents. LeBarron asked that if residents start losing pressure, they need to alert the village right away. As part of the lowering of the pressure in the lines, there will now be weekly bacteria testing.
Village of Westfield Mayor David Carr said the village is committed to helping out in any way it can with the situation.
“We have to find a way to make it work,” Bills said. “We don’t have the answer tonight, but we’re going to keep on going.”
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Photo by Jenna Loughlin
These are examples of what the pipes currently bringing water to Barcelona Water District residents look like.