On Thursday, the City of Westminster will begin yet another in a long series of complicated and difficult infrastructure improvement projects. This one will begin to replace the water main lines on Main Street, between Pennsylvania Avenue and Longwell Avenue. The two 6- and 8-inch pipes will be replaced with one new 12-inch ductile iron pipe.
According to a number of media sources, the life expectancy of the water mains buried under Westminster’s Main Street is approximately 70 to 80 years. As pipes age, the material becomes porous, allowing water to seep out and contribute to unaccounted loss.
On Sept. 7, 2006, city workers had to cut through almost 12 inches of concrete on Main Street at the railroad tracks to fix a leaking valve on a city water main. According to the American Water Works Association, there are an “estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States.” Fortunately Westminster has taken a proactive stance to tackle difficult infrastructure maintenance and improvement projects head-on in an effort to prevent future water main breaks.
There are many references to water issues in Westminster’s history, including folklore about wells that never ran dry, sources of water with medicinal mineral qualities and water supply ponds. One community water supply pond was once located where the RockSalt Grille restaurant is located today on West Main Street. Another was located where the large apartment complex is on Poole Road to the east of town. Another water supply was located on a farm to south of – in close proximity to – the Green Street bridge.
Today, Westminster’s water system is supplied by a blended source of groundwater and surface water. One source of water are the tributaries of the West Branch of the Patapsco River. That surface source is augmented by a number of wells throughout the community, which contribute 20 to 30 percent of the water supply. The 121.8-million-gallon Raw Reservoir, built in 1957, holds the bulk of the reserve water.
In 1883, the first private water company was created and named Westminster Water Company. In 1901, a second company was formed named Citizens Water and Power Company. These two companies competed for customers until their consolidation in 1909. The water system in Westminster remained in private hands until 1964 when it was purchased by the city for $961,792.
The two water pipes under Main Street were installed separately by the two private water companies. This history is complicated by an oral tradition that a hodgepodge of pipes in the city were installed before 1883. This was a makeshift system that connected a series of ponds, spring houses, and wells throughout the city.
Keep in mind that Main Street remained a dirt road until the late 1920s. Many folks are curious as to what might be uncovered during the project. Oral history accounts indicate that Westminster’s Main Street is on a portion of a Native American trail that could possibly be as old as 1,500 years.
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The specifications for the complicated project, released in February, are 313 pages long. The project has been discussed by a series of Westminster mayors and Common Councils since the 1980s, with added importance placed on the project in the past 20 years. One important impediment to the project, however, in addition to the concerns over the disruption to Main Street, was its cost. Fortunately, in the past several years federal funding was obtained to foot the $2 million that it will take to complete the project.
On Aug. 28, a public community meeting was held in the City Administrative Offices by Westminster Mayor Mona Becker and Interim Public Works Director John Dick. Becker is an environmental studies scientist and Dick is considered an experienced expert in construction implementation. They explained that the work will be done in eight phases, and total time of construction will be approximately 220 days.
The roadway, and water disruptions will be held to a minimum and coordinated with Main Street shoppers and shop owners. Work will be done from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. All roads will remain open with two-way traffic during construction. Sidewalks will remain open.
Updates will be posted on the city’s website www.westminstermd.gov/521/WaterMainReplacement.
Meanwhile, the City of Westminster is doing its part to maintain an excellent water system. Water conservation remains just as important today. Be aware of how much water you use. Awareness is the first step in conservation. The average person uses 50 gallons of water per day.
It remains important that everyone continue to conserve water. A few ideas as to how everyone can reduce their water consumption include: reduce outside uses of water such as watering the lawn; use a car wash for washing your vehicles because commercial car washes use water recovery systems; repair water leaks immediately; wash full loads of laundry in your washer and full loads of dishes in your dishwasher; invest in water reducing devices in your toilet tank; and sing while taking a shower with a friend. “You don’t know what you got until it’s gone.”
Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster. His Time Flies column appears every Sunday. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.