WHITEHALL — Maintaining Whitehall’s nearly 120-year-old water system’s 14-inch pipes is a complicated and tireless job. And just when one leak is fixed, another or even two spring forth.
Just this past week, as soon as one leak was repaired and residents had just gotten a reprieve from a boil water advisory, village users lost all water.
The no-water situation, which was caused by several newly discovered leaks and resolved on Thursday, closed down the school, the plywood mill and left residents unable to take care of basic needs like drinking, cooking, bathing and even flushing the toilet.
“There hasn’t been a global effort to concentrate on water and revamp the whole water system. It’s been somewhat piecemeal,” said village Mayor Phil Smith on Thursday.
That’s why village leaders are taking proactive measures to update a system that Smith said dates back to 1910. Smith said that when he was researching something for the village, he discovered many water petitions to the Village Board during that year.
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After being awarded a federal community development block grant of $700,000, the village is planning to fix a small segment of the only water main that comes from the water plant across South Bay Bridge into the village.
“That’s a very vulnerable location. You’d have to get a barge to fix it,” said Smith. “The water line goes under the bridge. It’s takes special equipment and permits to repair that line under the bridge, so we’re trying to be proactive about it.”
The initial plan was to bore under South Bay and bury the water line under the lake. Initial estimates came in at about $700,000, but when officials went out for bids, they came back in at more than double the amount.
Because it was a complicated project, the bids came in at about $1.5 million, Smith said. So, they had to scrap the entire plan and regroup, re-engineer and come up with a new plan. That’s when they discovered a less-expensive way of upgrading the old main.
“They came up with an idea of actually putting in a liner through the existing pipe,” said Smith. “It’s a high-tech repair. We’re able to do that cheaper (than the bids) and spending the same amount of money.”
According to Smith, this first leg of upgrades is scheduled to begin in the spring.