Sewer lines may be next infrastructure nightmare

Thu, 11/18/2021 - 3:30pm

At the joint Water and Sewer Commissions' meeting in October, Sewer Superintendent Dylan Chase had said what was thought to be a clog of an inn’s “lateral” sewer line on Beach Avenue this summer could have been from the collapse of the pipe. The lateral lines go from the building or home to the municipal sewer lines that are usually under the roads. The lateral lines are the responsibility of the property owner, but since the oldest lines go back to 1974, several could be starting to develop problems. The oldest lines are made of concrete-asbestos, which over time, could crumble. With a camera truck coming to inspect other lines, Chase said he would
like “to get eyes on them.”
“We need to come up with a plan,” said Sewer Commission Chair Pete McNerney. “We have some old lines of our own.”
Chase said the situation could be costly, and resources would be needed.

“The other thing is, when you start putting a camera down that line,” added McNerney, “you could damage the line.”

Fast forward to this past week when two Truax (“We keep things flowing”) trucks were on the island, one “camera-ing” the lines and another cleaning them out. On Tuesday, after many hours spent over a manhole outside Captain Nick’s on Ocean Avenue, Chase told The Times they had discovered lots of “broken pipes.”

By late morning on Wednesday, approximately half of the municipal sewer pipes had been filmed.
One of the workers from Truax told The Block Island Times that what Chase described as breaks were more like fissures, or cracks, in the pipes, causing groundwater to seep in. It’s not as bad as it sounds, though. He said the leaks could be repaired with a liquid sealant that would protect the pipe. The sealant can be applied via the manholes, so no digging is required. It’s a quick fix, but the problem could foretell problems ahead.
Both the Sewer and Water Departments have had robust sales this year, and they continued into September and October. Water Superintendent John Breunig said they had an added boost in revenues when the National and Harborside hotels, which share a well, had problems and asked to hook up to town water for a couple of weeks. It was a request that Breunig said he would not have been able to accommodate before Labor Day due to the high demand for water in July and August.

Breunig continues to monitor and calculate just what the remaining capacity of the water system is, with the constraint being not how much water is in the ground, but the water plant’s ability to pump it out and process it. In the coming months, the commissions will need to continue the discussion of how to meet increasing demand in the water district, especially with several large construction projects on the horizon, from hotel additions to affordable housing.

As for the greater question – how much water is in the ground all over Block Island, which depends on a sole-source aquifer, Breunig will be getting some help from
researchers at the University of Rhode Island who have begun gathering data for what will most likely be a three-year study of Block Island’s water resources. It’s been done before, but decades ago, and the results could raise some serious questions about the sustainability of growth all over the island.