The Suffolk County Water Authority, in an effort to better serve its customers, is constantly working to upgrade and improve the more than 5,800 miles of water main that deliver water throughout Suffolk County.
In 2009, the SCWA replaced or upgraded more than 15 miles of water main at a cost of more than $9 million. In addition to replacing old main, SCWA installed more than 22 miles of new main to bring safe, pure drinking water and bolster fire protection in areas previously not served by the SCWA. In total, the SCWA spent more than $21 million on water main improvements in 2009.
“We are focused on making sure we serve each and every customer with pure, safe water and that means we have to remain proactive about maintaining our extensive drinking water system,” said SCWA Board Secretary Patrick Halpin.
The Water Authority decides to upgrade water mains for four key reasons – the water mains in question are causing operational difficulties; they are getting old; they are inadequate to meet current demands; and/or work is being done in the area by the town, county or state that allows the SCWA to complete the upgrade without the difficulty or expense of restoration.
“Areas where we are getting excessive water main breaks, such as the Southwest Sewer District, are a high priority for upgrade or improvement,” explained Herman Miller, SCWA Deputy CEO, Operations. “More than 50% of our water main breaks occur in the Southwest Sewer District because of problems related to improper installation of the sewer pipes. As such, this area is high on the list for main upgrades.” He added that in 2009 more than 4 miles of main were replaced in the Southwest Sewer District, located in the towns of Islip and Babylon, alone.
The SCWA also focuses on replacing water mains as they approach 70 to 80 years of age. While water mains have a lifespan of approximately 100 years, the SCWA puts a lot of effort in trying to stay ahead of the curve, especially in the older villages like Huntington and Babylon Village. The SCWA replaces old, cast iron pipes with ductile iron pipes because they are stronger than the cast iron pipes and thus less prone to breaks, they have a longer lifespan and they have the added “green” benefit of being constructed using recycled scrap metal.
The third reason for main replacement comes as a result of a main being undersized or inadequate to serve the current population. “In the 1920s they installed 4-inch mains in the East Main Street area of Huntington Village and while that was more than adequate back then, with the increased development in the area since then we receive low pressure complaints during times of high usage,” said Miller.
Lastly, the SCWA replaces or upgrades water mains when the state, county or town is doing road work that allows the Water Authority to fix or upgrade a section of main while the roads are torn up. This allows the SCWA to save ratepayers money because it cuts out the restoration costs associated with fixing a road. This restoration work can equal 30 to 40% of a project’s cost.
“Moving forward we intend to remain focused on keeping our water mains maintained so that we can continue with our important mission of providing safe drinking water to the areas we serve across Suffolk,” said SCWA Chairman Michael LoGrande.