Million-dollar fix for burst pipe

Cranbrook draws on reserve funds for emergency repairs to a worst-case scenario at its spray irrigation fields

Director of Public Works Joe McGowan stands on a berm above a header pipe that carries wastewater from a lagoon to a central pumphouse at the City of Cranbrook’s spray irrigation fields. The pipe has burst underneath the pumphouse

Director of Public Works Joe McGowan stands on a berm above a header pipe that carries wastewater from a lagoon to a central pumphouse at the City of Cranbrook’s spray irrigation fields. The pipe has burst underneath the pumphouse

A rupture in a wastewater pipe in the worst possible location has forced the City of Cranbrook to pull $1 million out of a reserve fund.

“This is a one million dollar surprise,” said Mayor Wayne Stetski.

The burst pipe is located out at the city’s spray irrigation fields in Mayook – 20 feet beneath the newly renovated pumphouse building.

The 24-inch pipe carries wastewater from one of the two lagoons at the spray fields to the pumphouse, from which it is dispersed through pivots to irrigate the 2,200-acre property.

Unfortunately, a worst-case scenario came about this spring when city staff learnt that the 40-year-old pipe was leaking, and had been for some time.

“It started off as probably just a pin hole leak and we don’t know how long it has been leaking, but we know it’s probably been leaking at least five years if not more,” Chief Administrative Officer Wayne Staudt told city council on Monday, May 27.

Even worse than the tricky location of the burst pipe is that years of leaking wastewater created a sink hole underneath the pumphouse building, which contains hundreds of thousands of dollars in technology.

“This leakage then washed away and took the ground under the building, which was primarily gravel, and all that gravel is now moved out,” said Staudt.

What’s more, the city discovered the problem at the worst possible time of year – early spring, when the lagoons are at their peak height.

“We were right at the beginning of the season, when the ponds out there are at their maximum levels, and we’ve got to move that wastewater out onto the pivots and the spray irrigation. So it’s not something we could delay. We needed to move quickly so that we don’t exceed our limits,” said Staudt.

To repair the 15 feet of burst pipe and stabilize the building, work that is now almost complete, staff had to use directional drilling to get at the problem 20 feet below ground.

“The high cost of it is because everything is under the building and we have to tackle it from the side of the building, doing almost a directional drilling method that we would use if we were drilling say under a railway or something like that,” said Staudt.

He added that if the pipe had not been underneath the pumphouse, repairs would have cost only around $3,000.

“In hindsight you would say that wasn’t a great design we have out there, so we are going to revisit it because the infrastructure in and around that building is approaching 40 years old,” said Staudt.

It’s thought that the pipe, which should have another 20 years in its lifespan, eroded because of paint inside it.

“Just about the only thing they can see about why this pipe failed is that they coated it, which was a common technique, and that coating may have been a little toxic,” said Staudt.

The silver lining on the problem is that the city did not need to borrow money or raise taxes to pay for the emergency repair. On Monday, council authorized taking $650,000 out of its solid waste surplus fund, $200,000 out of its sewer surplus fund, and reassign $150,000 that would have been spent this year on upgrades at the spray irrigation fields.

“I’d like to thank staff and previous councils for the foresight in establishing these reserves. We would have a serious issue on our hands – we would have to borrow money or increase taxes or utility fees if that pre-planning had not happened and those reserves had not been available,” said Mayor Wayne Stetski.