Big Leaks Require Big Damage Control

Phoenix tends to 7,000 miles of water lines and 5,000 miles of sewer lines.

Phoenix tends to 7,000 miles of water lines and 5,000 miles of sewer lines.

By Kathleen Ferris

There are dripping bathroom faucets and backyard irrigation puddles and then there are the big leaks. Age, accidents and weather regularly cause city water lines to break. In Phoenix water lines can reach 9 feet in diameter. These breaks rarely cause gushers or sink holes like breaks in older cities. In the Greater Phoenix Metro area water main breaks damage roads and sometimes sidewalks.

Phoenix has 7,000 miles of water mains and 5,000 miles of sewer lines, enough pipe to stretch to Washington, D.C., and back three times. In Phoenix, water mains break unexpectedly 1,200 to 1,500 times a year.

Fixing these breaks takes a team of knowledgeable people. Yet residents rarely notice and most breaks are fixed the same day they happen.

In Phoenix, as in many cities, it takes a couple shifts of utility workers to fix a break. Backhoes and other large equipment are moved in and out of place. The city turns valves on or off to reroute water and keep it flowing to businesses and homes. Sometimes residents closest to the break are out of water for a while so the city sends water department employees door to door to keep the neighbors up to date. Representatives from other utilities are called to the site to help city workers protect buried cables and gas lines in the area. If the break is on a major road, the media is notified and police officers come to the site to direct traffic. Street staff may be involved to repair the road after the break is fixed.

About half of Phoenix’s massive, unseen water distribution lines are more than 30 years old. Aside from breaks and breaches, slow leaks in pipes can waste precious water and undermine infrastructure. Phoenix detects and fixes 5,000 small leaks in the system each year.

Arizona requires cities to keep water loss in their water mains to less than 10 percent. Phoenix keeps its water loss closer to 8 percent.

The good news: The city is financing a 5-year $1.1 billion Capital Improvement Program to develop its water and sewer system over the next few years. The improvements include fixing and replacing aging infrastructure underground. The project also will help the city fix and improve water treatment plants so it can continue to meet and exceed federal water quality standards. Find out more about big city water management at the Phoenix website.

For 45 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

Is There Effluent In My Park? Probably

This 6-acre lake in Peoria's Pioneer Lake is created with A+ reclaimed water.

This 6-acre lake in Peoria’s Pioneer Lake is created with A+ reclaimed water.

By Kathleen Ferris

A 6-acre lake in the middle of Peoria’s Pioneer Park opened to fishing in September. It will draw an estimated 3,000 anglers a year. These urban anglers will catch and keep about 80 percent of trout, catfish, sunfish, and bass within 30 days after they’re stocked. The fish live in a lake of reclaimed water, also called effluent. Yes, it is treated sewage that once flowed down your toilet and your bathroom and kitchen drains.

Peoria along with other cities in the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area are experts at cleaning and making good use of nearly 100 percent of their wastewater. The reclaimed water is used to irrigate parks, school grounds, golf courses and crops. Some shopping centers and homeowners associations use it to irrigate landscaping. Each year, Valley cities send 20 billion gallons of wastewater to cool the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, west of Phoenix. Reclaimed water also is used to replace groundwater and is banked underground for use during water shortages. All these uses of wastewater save drinking water for your tap.

Despite its origins, the fish in Pioneer Park’s lake are living in cleaner water than, say, the fish in Lake Pleasant. Peoria uses only A+ reclaimed water to fill the lake and irrigate the park. The state grades the quality of reclaimed water like a report card.

• A+ and A: This is wastewater treated and disinfected until there are no routinely detectable disease-causing bacteria. It can be used to irrigate playing fields and in fire sprinklers and snow making equipment. Reclaimed water steps up from A to A+ if the treatment also removes high levels of nitrogen compounds, including nitrates and ammonia, so the water will not contaminate groundwater. In 2001, ADEQ required new or expanding wastewater treatment plants with an outflow of more than 250,000 gallons per day to produce A+ reclaimed water.

• B+ and B: This is wastewater treated to control for bacteria but to a less stringent level. This standard of water is similar to standards for swimming lakes, such as Lake Pleasant and Saguaro Lake. The water is for restricted access uses, such as dust control and to irrigate golf courses. The reclaimed water also steps up from B to B+ when the treatment removes nitrogen compounds.

• C: This is wastewater treated to remove disease-causing bacteria, but at a lower level than Class B water. It can be used in pastures for non-dairy animals and on non-edible crops, such as sod farms.

So, yes, it’s likely there is effluent in your park. Now it’s up to you to find out from your city’s water department if it makes the grade.

For 45 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

From Grass To Gravel: Even The Dogs Approve

Woody Lee agrees that dogs don't need grass to be happy.

Woody Lee agrees that dogs don’t need grass to be happy.

By Kathleen Ferris

The city of Avondale gave Mae Jorgensen a $200 check when she removed the grass from her front yard and replaced it with desert landscaping. Avondale gave her another $200 when she removed the grass from her backyard two years later and created a garden of low-water plants and trees. While that was nice, Mrs. Jorgensen’s decisions earned her far more than $400. Her water bill, which once fluctuated from $100 to $200 a month, depending on the weather, is now a steady $68 a month. She once paid her landscaper to come every two weeks. He now comes once a month.

Please don’t tell Mrs. Jorgensen that you keep your grass for your dogs. Woody Lee, her Toy Fox Terrier, and Dutchess, her Shih Tzu, don’t miss the grass. In fact, they don’t seem to notice.

Most cities in the Greater Phoenix Metro area will pay homeowners and businesses to replace grass with desert landscaping.

For example, Peoria offers homeowners and businesses up to $1,650 off their water bills if they remove at least 500-square-feet of grass and replace it with low-water plants and trees. Peoria’s program is so popular it runs out of money about midway each fiscal year. This year is no exception and city council members are expected to refund the program in July.

In 1986, Glendale became one of the first Phoenix metro area cities to offer homeowners a rebate to replace grass with low-water plants. In 2005 Glendale added businesses to the city’s program. Homeowners can receive a rebate on their water bill of up to $750. Businesses and other non-residential water users can get up to a $3,000 rebate.

Avondale’s Mrs. Jorgensen said the secret to keeping the dogs happy was replacing her large patch of grass with pea-sized gravel instead of larger, traditional stones. She also added flagstone, a bench and a pair of ceramic cowboy boots. The once grassy area is surrounded by a wide selection of low-water trees, cacti and succulents, some in large colorful pots. Mrs. Jorgensen put in a few fast growing white oleanders along her back wall for privacy and lined her porch with palms. Mrs. Jorgensen, Dutchess and Woody Lee have concluded that grass is just unnecessary. For information about low-water use landscaping and rebates offered in your city visit the AMWUA conservation page at amwua.org.

For 45 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org.

What You Pay For When You Pay Your Water Bill

Chandler's Veterans Oasis Park is part of a system of lakes and basins that returns  2 million gallons of water a day back into the ground.

Chandler’s Veterans Oasis Park is part of a system of lakes and basins that returns 2 million gallons of water a day back into the ground.

By Kathleen Ferris

The next time you receive a water bill remember this fact: It’s the water department’s job to make sure each person receives enough water at just the right pressure for a good shower at 7 a.m. The demand for water spikes about 7 a.m. in Chandler and in most Phoenix metro cities. Each shower must go on undisturbed, even if firefighters also open a hydrant to battle a fire in the neighborhood at 7:02 a.m. With every monthly water bill, Chandler and other Phoenix metro area residents are paying for a system built to meet their water demands every minute of every day.

Chandler is a city of nearly 245,000 people living on 71 square miles. Chandler’s water department is expected to create its own revenue by charging customers enough to cover its expenses and no more. This includes the cost of treating and delivering 56 million gallons of drinking-quality water every day, removing it safely when it is sent down the drain or flushed down the toilet, and cleaning that wastewater so it can be used again to irrigate outside landscaping. Chandler also constructed recharge basins and wetlands, such as those at Veterans Oasis Park, to store treated wastewater underground.

When you pay your bill, you also help to build and maintain Chandler’s infrastructure that includes:
• 1,230 miles of water lines to bring drinking water into homes.
• 40,000 valves the city uses to control fire hydrants and reroute water when it needs to repair or do maintenance on a water line.
• 79,500 water meters that measure water use at each home and business.
• 900 miles of underground pipes to remove wastewater from homes and businesses and transport it to treatment centers.
• 120 miles of underground pipelines to reuse 100 percent of reclaimed wastewater.

Chandler residents pay for skilled staff, including chemists and technicians who must complete 13,000 tests each year on Chandler’s drinking water. They pay for construction workers who know how to build and fix water pipes and for the people who read their water-meters, now done with technology that allows a city employee to simply drive by or near your home.

If your water bill sometimes raises your temperature, remember all that’s involved in making sure you have a dependable supply of water for a cool shower any time of day or night. Find more information about how Chandler saves water here.

For 45 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit www.amwua.org