Model Approved to Assess Pipes and Prevent Water Main Breaks

January 9, 2015
by S. Aaron Shamshoyan

“We’ve had a history of water breaks in the recent past,” Town Manager Keith Hickey told Salem Selectmen Monday, seeking to conduct a water pipe integrity testing program.

The proposal would aggregate data from the town into a master plan, helping to focus work efforts on deteriorated water mains.

“Let’s figure out which pipes really are old and need to be replaced,” said Richard Davee, senior vice president of the Wright-Pierce Water Group.  “A lot of your pipe is cast iron pipe.”

Davee said some pipes in the system are over 100 years old, but have no problems.  He said it was important to assess condition and not base a replacement strategy on just age.

The model would guide the town as to which pipes may fail, and should be looked into further.  It also takes in to account where roadwork is slated to be done to determine where to concentrate replacement efforts.

Davee said once a problem spot is identified within the model, further testing can be done to fully understand the condition of the water main.

Non-destructive testing involves running sound waves through the pipe to assess condition, while further, destructive testing involves cutting a sample out of the main and performing a visual inspection and crush test in a lab.

Davee said the town is currently unaware of what percentage of water main could have problems.

“The primary reason for a hydraulic model is to figure out where your critical pipes are,” he said.

The proposal comes on the heels of multiple highly visible water main breaks in 2014, at least three of which were on Rt. 28 and snarled traffic.

“We are going to do something with this,” said Selectman Michael Lyons, noting breaks cost more than the proposed $27,500 for the plan.

Davee said the study was an affordable way to allow the town to understand its pipe system.  “This is relatively low money,” he said.

“I think it is an insurance policy,” Lyons continued.  “We don’t want to replace all our old pipe.”

He also said as the Salem Representative to the Greater Lawrence Sanitary District, Wright-Pierce was the only firm they use.”

“I am happy to put Wright-Pierce on this,” Lyons said.  “We don’t know what’s under the ground.”

DPW Director Rick Russell said the study would help guide replacement efforts.

“This is going to put the known together to point us to the right line,” he said about the hydraulic model.

Selectman Stephen Campbell questioned why the project wouldn’t be put out to bid.

“Not putting it out to bid is a problem for me,” Campbell said.  “This $27,000 is going to lead to more.  If we think we have problems, study a specific area.”

Hickey said Wright-Pierce is the go-to firm for the town and already has an understanding of the system.

Lyons agreed saying other bids may not be received.  “It’s a small field,” he said.  “I think Wright-Pierce is the right company.”

Russell said the department often consults with the firm.  “Public Works has used Wright-Pierce for all its major water needs for a number of years,” he said.

McBride said even if another bidder were to come in lower, they may not be selected.  “We take the most qualified bidder,” he said.

The board voted 3-2 to enter a contract with Wright-Pierce for the model with Selectman Campbell and Chairman Patrick Hargreaves in opposition.