City officials in Maryville have spent much of the past month trying to plug leaks. No, not that kind of leak — there haven't been any stolen documents, whistleblowers or mysterious late-night emails alleging political skullduggery.
In fact, City Manager Greg McDanel and Public Works Director C.E. Goodall have made every effort to let folks know what's going on. It's just that the city's underground water lines keep, well, leaking.
Since Memorial Day weekend, there have been three water main breaks in Maryville, the most recent one last Thursday, when water began bubbling up under an asphalt patch at the corner of West Edwards and Dunn streets.
The first incident, on the Sunday before last month's holiday, took place on Highway 136 on the east edge of town. Several thousand gallons of water spewed from a broken 12-inch main, buckling the pavement and forcing crews to work into the early hours replacing pipe and making temporary repairs to the roadway.
City crews responded to another pipeline break on July 2 at East First and Davis streets, where there were actually two leaks, one caused by a ruptured pipe and the other by a malfunctioning valve.
Permanent repairs at the site are scheduled for Tuesday, when the intersection will be blocked to traffic for most of the day. In addition, water will be shut off over an approximate four-block area from about 9 a.m. until sometime that afternoon. Affected residents have been notified and urged to fill containers with water for drinking and washing.
As every homeowner knows, plumbing mishaps happen. But four times in a little more than four weeks? What's going on here?
Wear and tear, McDanel said Friday. Maryville has an aging drinking water infrastructure, and some parts of the system are simply beginning to break down.
There is also the possibility that this summer's drought is drying out subsoil, causing earth and rock to shift and stressing underground lines. But McDanel said that while that could become a problem in the very near future, the recent rash of water leaks were caused by worn out pipe.
He further speculated that increased water usage by Maryville residents during the dry spell — people watering lawns and filling swimming pools — may also have had an effect.
Which brings up the question, what kind of shape is Maryville's water supply system in, and what will it cost to fix?
"I think the system is in pretty good shape," McDanel said. "Though certainly there are some critical issues we need to address."
One of those issues is the need for a new water main between the treatment plant near the One Hundred and Two River bridge and Depot Street. That's the main that broke just before Memorial Day.
Page 2 of 2 - McDanel said the line is about 50 years old and is possibly the oldest part of the city's drinking water infrastructure. The City Council has discussed replacing it several times over the past several years, but other priorities always took precedence.
Not any more. Replacing the main has been moved to the short list of infrastructure projects the city needs to complete as soon as possible.
Engineering the new line is to take place this summer with construction scheduled before the end of the year at an estimated cost of $750,000.
In addition, McDanel said a new main, a "north loop," could be constructed next year. He explained that another primary pipeline bringing water into the city will ease pressure on secondary lines that carry water to homes and businesses.
Another upcoming project includes new water pipe running north and south along South Depot Street, a badly dilapidated thoroughfare scheduled for reconstruction.
McDanel said he believes Maryville's water supply system is sound, and that repair, replacement and maintenance of aging pipes is simply a task that the city has to deal with.
"We're in good shape, but like any infrastructure it's a continual process," he said.