Although now, talk of upgrading aging infrastructure in this county is ascending in public consciousness, the Water Authority of Great Neck North has been quietly and methodically investing in, not only replacing miles of pipes and valves, but in technology that dramatically improves the ability to pinpoint leaks, read meters and operate the complicated pumping system with sophisticated computer programs and reduced labor costs.
Although there has been some grumbling about water rates in Great Neck, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is promoting a sustainable future for water delivery services and one of its recommendations is that rates reflect the full cost pricing of services. The EPA basically states that in this country we have been spoiled by low water rates, a "bargain" which is the result of ignoring deteriorating pipes that in some places are over a century old.
The Record recently sat down with Authority superintendent Robert Graziano, assistant superintendent Greg Graziano and Robert McCormack to learn more about the technologies and planned upgrades that continue to supply Great Neck with plentiful water that exceeds New York State standards for purity.
One of the banes of water utilities is pipe breaks and leaks. The American Water Works Association, a nonprofit trade group, says that water loss from leaks averages 18 to 20 percent nationally. At the Authority, the rate of water loss from leaks is well below the national average, at 5 percent.
The Authority purchased for $12,000 a device that "listens" to water in pipes and can locate "on the money" where leaks and breaks occur. Recently, the Great Neck Park District had a water leak issue at Allenwood Park in the line that feeds the water fountains. By using the radio wave transmitter device, the Authority was able to pinpoint the leak and avoid digging up a lengthy section of the park. Businesses and homeowners who see a spike in their water bill are urged to call the Authority to arrange for a worker to come investigate the situation. It is a free service of the Authority.
There is a plan in place to survey sections of the system every year to detect leaks and repair them before they become bigger problems.
While paving fabrics are widely used in new road construction and road maintenance to reduce reflective cracking in the pavement, there is a downside for water utilities. This fabric membrane keeps water from perking upward and instead diffuses the water over a wider area if there is a break in the piping and hence makes the exact leak harder to find. Mr. Graziano said that the leak detection device "has more than paid for itself because we aren't digging up whole sections and chasing the problem ... and I don't know what number you can put on avoiding inconvenience and hassle to residents when roads are torn up."
Another advanced system, which has been long in the planning and execution, is the supervisory controlled and data acquisition system (SCADA) which will allow for remote monitoring and control of pumping rates at wells. It will eliminate the need for the 4 p.m. to midnight and midnight to 8 a.m. shifts. The cost for this system is $1 million and it is expected to save $250,000 a year.
There will still be human beings overseeing the system by computer, but the new system will quickly sound alarms if there is a drop in pressure at a well. Voltage monitoring, chlorine pump monitoring, and temperature changes will also be recorded.
In the past, if LIPA had an overfeed or underfeed of electricity to the motors and caused them to "burn out," they could deny that their system caused the damage. Now, there will be a read-out that will show proof of surges to the minute.
This system will be fully operational this summer and has a four-year payback.
The computer system that regulates SCADA has a back-up wireless system to make sure that if there is a cable hook-up problem, an air-link will kick in.
Another labor saver is the installation of meter replacement technology, similar to that of an E-Z pass, that will allow for a house-to-house reading by a specially equipped truck that will "read" water usage as it rolls through a neighborhood. Actually, it will be able to read more than one house at a time per second. So far, 4,000 meters have been replaced with 4,800 to go.
Currently, it takes three meter readers 10 working days to read the meters. When the system is fully operational, it will take one person one and a half days to do the same job. The new system will download the "readings" to the billing system, which will upload to produce a bill. It is anticipated that there will be fewer keypunch errors.
According to Mr. Graziano, there are a few senior people who are preparing for retirement and staff reductions will take place through attrition.
The Authority has painstakingly created a computerized grid map of the entire system, which can be printed out when workers are called to an emergency situation. The grid shows the location of valves, hydrants and is helpful in honing in on repair work or when streets are being repaved.
Mr. McCormack says that replacement work of water mains is prioritized with larger needs facilities, such as schools and nursing homes high on the list. Replacement of old pipes is a budgeted item every year.
The American Water Works Association estimates that it will take at least $250 billion to replace thousands of miles of leaky water lines and aging filtration plants over the next 30 years. The Water Authority of Great Neck North could serve as a model for forward thinking and planning that is ensuring that our essential water resources are preserved and protected.