The City of Irving Water Utilities Department faced extraordinary obstacles keeping the water system running during the extreme, prolonged winter weather in February.
Between Feb. 14 and 22, the city’s water distribution system suffered 15 water main breaks, predominately affecting aging infrastructure. During normal winter weather in Texas, Irving’s water system experiences less than one water main break per day. During the February storm, the numbers more than doubled. In spite of the increased breaks, crews were able to respond quickly and make repairs to keep Irving’s water utilities customers in service during the freezing weather.
The majority of the water main breaks were on 6-inch and 8-inch cast iron pipes, which were originally installed in the 1950s and 1960s. Typically, these pipes are brittle and can fail at a higher rate when water temperatures drop. Aging infrastructure can cause interruptions to service and requires regular maintenance, repair and replacement. As Irving’s pipelines and infrastructure age, the city has continued to take a proactive and innovative approach to water and wastewater system maintenance, including updates to Water and Wastewater System Master Plans, condition assessments of critical infrastructure and continual updates to the five-year capital improvement program to ensure reliable systems.
During February’s winter events, the Water Utilities Department relied on backup generators to keep Irving’s pump stations running. Staff scrambled to warm up frozen field instruments that provide critical information on water storage tank levels and system pressures. Fuel deliveries to generators were continuous, and staff operated in the field 24/7 to monitor the systems and to ensure everything continued to run.
The amount of water delivered to customers doubled overnight due to private plumbing breaks and increased demand from running and dripping faucets. However, pump stations were able to maintain pressure throughout the water distribution system. Staff was in constant communication internally, as well as with the City of Dallas, which cleans and processes Irving’s water supply. City staff continuously ensured enough water was delivered from water treatment plants to Irving pump stations and storage tanks, where it could be delivered to residents and businesses as needed.
The Water Utilities Department also responded to an influx of calls. On a normal week, the department receives about 260 calls in operations. During the winter weather, the department received 1,315 service requests with a peak of almost 400 on Feb. 17. The majority of the service calls were from residents requesting that their water be turned off. Later in the week, the department began to receive more requests to turn water back on after plumbing repairs were made.
The Fire Department also assisted in shutting off water supplies at residential and commercial properties and followed up on issues with fire protection systems.
With every surface covered with snow, Water Utilities field crews also faced the challenge of locating meter boxes to shut off water services. Field crews used GIS technology and aerial photos from Google Earth at each location to find where the water services were located. Once the general location was determined, crews cleared the snow and quickly completed the work without a prolonged search.
Water Utilities employees worked around the clock at operations facilities and outside, in freezing temperatures, to keep Irving’s water supply system functioning properly and providing service to residential and business properties across the city.
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