McDonald sent the question to Dan Lynch, water utility director, and was surprised to learn how a recent water outage might have affected the new St. Mary’s Janesville Hospital.
“Had the new St. Mary’s Hospital been in service at that time, its ability to perform basic hospital functions would most probably have been severely compromised, not just for the two hours the water was off but for many hours afterwards, until uniform water pressure was re-established,” Lynch said.
Lynch has said that a water tower is needed on the northeast side to maintain water pressure in emergencies.
After learning about Lynch’s concerns, McDonald said he would suggest that major projects such as Mercy Health System’s new emergency department and clinic and St. Mary’s Janesville Hospital be presented to the city council with reports detailing how the projects would impact the infrastructure.
“This is enough of a concern to bring it up in the future, just to make sure that everyone is safe, that the business owners know what they’re getting into and make sure the city and the taxpayers know what’s happening,” McDonald said.
Joan Neeno, director of marketing and public relations at St. Mary’s Janesville Hospital, and Rich Gruber, Mercy’s vice president of community advocacy, said their facilities have emergency water plans.
The water main break last spring in front of Blain Supply on Wright Road released 1.5 millions gallons of water and disabled the north distribution zone for about two hours, Lynch said.
That happens in that zone about once a year.
“When we have a massive failure of the system, we can’t get the water from the west side to the east side fast enough,” Lynch said.
“There’s been instances in the past where a main is broken and resulted in a significant loss of product for a company,” Lynch said. “We can’t guarantee that pipes won’t break.”
McDonald asked Lynch whether adding new customers adds to the trouble.
“Common sense tells you the more users, the more demand, the more likely to fail,” McDonald said.
But Lynch said the problem isn’t related to an expanding service area. He said it’s a quality of service issue.
More customers just mean that more customers experience the problems, he said.
All of the city’s water storage is on the west side, and one pipe crosses the river. A sudden demand on the east side because of a fire or a water main break causes a major reduction of water pressure north and east of Interstate 90/39.
“In this situation, there is no water for fire protection, which is a public safety risk,” Lynch said.
Foreign material also can be pulled into the distribution system and create a health risk.
The council decided in 2009 that the city couldn’t afford a new water tower at that time.
The city recently installed 24-inch pipe from Mayfair Drive to Wright Road, and that should help during emergencies.
Still, “when running at capacity, the city cannot move that much water quickly,” Lynch said.
Eventually, a tower will be built, and the 24-inch line will allow the east side and west side to work together more smoothly, he said.
Still, McDonald wondered at what point the system reaches a tipping point.
To say that the water system is not affected by growth is not correct, he said.
“Thirty years ago, there was nothing on the northeast side,” McDonald said. “There was no need for a water tower because there was no demand out there.”
McDonald supports infill and brownfield development rather that growth on the outskirts of town.
Lynch acknowledged that more users increase system demand, but he said Janesville is not at the tipping point.
“I don’t want to sound alarmist, but the need for the tower is a present need,” Lynch said. “But one or 10 or 100 more customers on this zone won’t hurt the zone’s normal operations.
“It just means that there will be one or 10 or 100 more customers who will experience the consequences of a system failure.
“I do not believe that growth on the east and north sides of the city should be placed on hold until the water tower is built,” Lynch said.
“The tower will only affect water pressure in high demand situations.”