Water main breaks cost additional $250K so far this year

Main breaks cost additional $250K so far this year

Warren water department employees look to identify where an underground leak is located after a water main break near the Warren Plaza on Elm Road on Friday morning. The department has repaired 106 water main breaks so far this year. Last year, the city experienced 85 breaks, according to Utilities Department Director Franco Lucarelli. Staff photo / Raymond L. Smith

WARREN — An increase in the number of water main break repairs so far this year forced the water department to request an additional $250,000 to pay for materials needed to do the work.

Council approved the increase at its meeting Wednesday.

So far, the department has repaired approximately 106 water main breaks through Sept. 8. In all of 2020, the department repaired 85 water main breaks.

During an average year, it repairs between 100 and 105 water main breaks, according to Utilities Department Director Franco Lucarelli.

While the number of broken water mains needing repaired in 2021 appears to be on a trajectory of being one of the highest in the last five years, Lucarelli said the number of repairs done in 2020 was actually low compared to other years.

The number of water main breaks in 2016 was 124; in 2017, there were 92; in 2018, there were 116; in 2019, there were 112.

The average annual cost of fixing water main breaks over the last three years has been $241,000. The department so far has spent $300,000 to pay for the repairs in 2021.

Because the water department is an enterprise department — meaning it generates its budget from the fees it collects from customers — the additional $250,000 will not come from taxpayers.

Nearly 90 percent of the breaks that occur are on the smaller 6-inch lines, not its larger lines.

Lucarelli said 86 percent of the city’s water mains were installed prior to 1965.

“We may have had fewer repairs last year due to the fact the city had voluntary layoffs caused by it reducing staff because of COVID-19 restrictions,” Lucarelli said. “We had minimum staffing. There may have been small leaks that were not considered emergencies and, because of staffing levels, we were not running out to repair them.”

The department has returned to its full staffing levels.

“What is being done this year is not only getting to new waterline breaks, but going back to those smaller leaks that may not have been addressed last year due to staffing shortages,” Lucarelli said.

About 54 percent of the breaks that occurred so far this year have been on the city’s south side.

“For the most part, the mains on this side are the oldest in the city,” Lucarelli said. “We’ve developed a strategic plan that was submitted to the administration earlier this year.”

Working with the county, Lucarelli described applying for available funds through House Bill 168, which, if approved by the state, will enable the city to do some water main replacements for five different streets in Warren and Warren Township.

The house bill will earmark $250 million from American Rescue Plan funds received by the state to allow local communities to apply for funding for local water and sewer projects.

Trumbull County asked local communities to submit applications for projects, which were graded by a local committee and then submitted to the state for consideration. Of the 10 projects submitted, the city’s waterline replacement construction project was rated as the county’s No. 2 project, according to Trumbull County Engineer Randy Smith.

Newton Falls’ Scott Street Phase 2 Sanitary Sewer Improvement wastewater project was the top-rated item submitted by Trumbull County for the HB 168 funds.

Other communities that applied for these ARP funds include McDonald, Hubbard, West Farmington, Girard, Weathersfield, Lordstown, Niles and Cortland, according to Smith.

“If we receive the ARP funds, we will be able to do more sewer line replacements,” Lucarelli said.

Regardless of whether the department is awarded part of the state’s ARP funds, Lucarelli emphasized they should be able to accomplish the goals in its strategic plan without asking for a rate increase.

“We should be able to do it using the current rate structure,” he said. “There has been no discussions about a rate increase.”

Lucarelli said, in a perfect world, he would love to do 10 miles of water main replacement annually over the next 20 years. Currently, the department is able to do two to four miles per year.

The department has no EPA mandates to upgrade its system.


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