WEIRTON - A recently completed workaround makes it unlikely, though not impossible, for Weirton's water to ever again be knocked offline for an extended period, Utilities Director A.D. "Butch" Mastrantoni said.
"I don't want to say we've 'completely' thwarted that possibility," he said Thursday. "But basically, we're serving the city through two mains right now. If something would happen to the integrity of one main, we could toggle over to the next and the citizens would never notice they're not getting service from two mains. It's highly unlikely we would have an outage of significant duration as the result of the failure of one of the transmission mains."
Earlier this week Mastrantoni told council crews had recently finished installing the backup - an 18-inch transmission line from the treatment plant - that connects to a 24-inch water main that flows throughout the city.
"So now we have two main transmission lines throughout the city, one backs up the other," Mastrantoni said. "We can pump through one or both of them."
Last year crews were performing routine waterline maintenance when what was then the only transmission line failed, leaving residents without water service for a week while they tried to patch the roughly 46-year-old pipe.
While having a backup transmission line makes it unlikely the same thing can happen again, he said there's always the chance something other than the transmission mains could fail.
"I don't want to say no event can supersede it, but the likelihood of it happening, now that we have (dual mains) becomes much less because we have a backup, a constant backup, that's always there," he said.
In the meantime, he said they're using a $50,000 grant to study another 1964-era line to determine its condition and figure out a way to fix whatever problems they encounter.
Overnight Thursday, Mastrantoni said they stopped pumping water from the plant for five hours so crews could test the first section of piping for leaks. He said they'll repeat the tests as often as is necessary "to get an actual picture of the pipeline's condition."
"Our crews will be out there with an independent contractor who's going to use sound equipment to try and detect leaks, in order to determine the integrity of that old 18-inch main," he said. "Since we had a failure of the same kind of pipe near the treatment plant that created the (2011) outage, and it was put in at basically the same time, the same year, we want to check the integrity of the 18-inch transmission line as it goes up through town."
He said the pump has to be off while they work "because the test is sound sensitive. If the pumps are working, the vibration caused by them" would affect the results.
He said the 18-inch line through town, made of spiral reinforced steel pipe, was installed around 1962-64 and extends from the treatment plant to the intersection of Weir Avenue and Cove Road about four miles away; the 24-inch line installed in the 1970s is a more conventional iron pipe, he said.
Meanwhile, the water board continues to look for a metering system with better leak detection capabilities, remote shutoff and automatic meter reading potential that would be less labor-intensive and more cost-effective than the current method, which requires workers to walk the routes.
At Thursday's meeting, the board decided to spend a little more than $13,000 for a pilot test radio read system that would simplify the meter-reading process while also helping reduce water loss.
Mastrantoni said the board wants to purchase 54 automated meter reading devices from Huntington-based HD Supply to try out on industrial accounts. The system would use digital signals to relay each customer's usage information from their meter to a notebook computer mounted in a water department vehicle, allowing them to do in one day the same number of readings that historically require two or three days for workers on foot to get done.
As the mobile meter reading crew passes by, usage numbers would be gathered and recorded by the computer.
The board several months ago nixed an automatic reader system that used the Internet and satellite technology to gather data via an antenna extruding from the meter pit, deciding against making a citywide change because that system didn't meet their needs either in terms of manpower or response times to problems.
(Harris can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)