Water line break a 'budget buster"

A water line break in Newton early Tuesday is a "budget buster" said Newton Mayor Robert Mullinax.

"There's nothing good about it," he said during an emergency meeting of Newton City Council on Tuesday. "We've lost a lot of water."

By mid-afternoon Tuesday, the city had lost more than 3 million gallons of water through a broken water line near the 900 block of U.S. 70. In addition to losing water through a broken water line proved very difficult to unearth, the city discontinued water service to about 136 customers in a 1.4-square mile area between U.S. 70, Conover-Startown Road and St. Paul's Church Road. Also impacted were numerous businesses, including those in the Bi-Lo shopping center and nearby restaurants.
Water service to Newton customer Energy United was also disrupted in the waker of the line break.

While businesses and residents inside downtown Newton and elsewhere in the city did not lose water service, most experienced a drop in water pressure.

"There is an economic impact in all this," Mullinax said. "Not just on the city but on area businesses."

Tuesday's emergency meeting gave city leaders an opportunity to brief elected officials on the water line break that occurred about 3 a.m. During that meeting, Newton Public Works Director Wilce Martin said the integrity of Newton's water lines have been protected, meaning the dirt or other materials did not enter the water lines.

"With Energy United off, we are able to maintain 60 psi" of water pressure in the lines, Martin said. "If we continue to do that, we don't really have a problem (with the integrity of the system) and the whole city is not affected. If somehow we can't maintain flow, the state may tell us we have to do a public notice, and we may have to shut down larger parts of the city."

As of Tuesday afternoon, however, Mullinax said, "the state was clear. They are not concerned about public health and safety" problems related to the line break.

Meanwhile, the city's water storage was reduced to about a million gallons in a couple of recently repaired clear wells. City Manager Todd Clark said that the city's aerial tank near Mt. Olive Church Road was emptied for maintenance earlier in the week, and the aerial tank near downtown Newton has not been functional for quite a while. Clark said the city's reservoir is still at full pond, and its water treatment facility is still preparing drinking water.

Problems in the city's water system also jeopardized fire protection in the city, but Clark said Newton Fire Chief Kevin Yoder contacted area fire departments to have tanker trucks available in an emergency.
"Conover and Hickory are well aware of the situation, and they are ready to provide mutual aide if needed," he said.

In fact, Mullinax said both Conover and Hickory have been "more than helpful" during the city's challenges with its water system Tuesday. And as Newton worked to isolate the leak and then repair it, emergency water service is available through Hickory.

"We have contacted the city of Hickory, and we have several connections with them," he said explaining there are inner-connections between the two systems in Sherrills Ford and Sandy Ford Road. "We have ways of getting water from them and into the system."

Water from those systems might come at a higher pressure, he warned, but expected that by opening fire hydrants problems could be alleviated.
"Hopefully when we turn the valves with Hickory that will keep water flowing," Mullinax said. "That's why the inner-connects and the valves are there."

Newton city crews had a difficult time uncovering the water line — and a gas line was broken during their efforts late in the afternoon. Martin said he expects it is either a 12-inch or 16-inch line. If it is a 12-inch line, Newton has equipment that can place a valve in the break, depending on its severity. If the line is a 16-inch line, repair will prove far more costly.

"If we have to put in a 16-inch valve it could be very expensive," he said.