Hydrants damaged, continuing to struggle with low pressure
More than half of Weddington’s fire hydrants are either damaged or operating with low water pressure. The Providence Volunteer Fire Department tested 115 hydrants Jan. 9 and found that out of those, nine were inoperable and 84 had inadequate water pressure, below the recommended 40 pounds per-square-inch.
The nine damaged hydrants include one on Elsmore Drive with a major leak at the bonnet, another on Keegan Court with a steamer cap leaking and a third on Bromley Drive, where a masonry wall had been built too close for the fire trucks to access the hydrant. Additional problems include a loose fitting on a Providence Road hydrant, shrubs planted around the hydrant on Worthington Drive and a low ground clearance for the hydrant on Willow Trace Lane.
“It’s all about timing,” Providence Board vice president Ken Evans said. “If a truck stops at a hydrant and that hydrant can’t be used, then they have to go find another one. There’s a delay in getting to the structure (fire).”
Providence forwarded their list of damaged hydrants to Union County’s Public Works department. Evans received a response from Public Works director Ed Goscicki two days later, saying the hydrants would be repaired quickly and he would let Providence know when the work was finished, so they would know when the hydrants were available for use. Since that Jan. 11 email, Evans said he hasn’t heard anything from the county. A request for information from Union County Weekly also went unanswered by press time.
In addition to the nine inoperable hydrants, Providence firefighters also found that 84 of the hydrants had low water pressure. Out of those, 32 had a per square inch pressure of 20 pounds or less. The hydrant at 1602 Pearlstone Lane had a psi of 10, as did the hydrant at 5051 Weddington Matthews Road. The hydrant at 2130 Climbing Rose Lane had a psi of 12.
Evans made it clear those numbers could and do change on a daily basis, meaning that the hydrants wouldn’t always struggle with dramatically low pressure.
“They’re not completely unusable, but the optimal pressure for a hydrant is 75 psi,” Evans said. “If you’re down even around 25, 26 psi, you’re not getting much pressure out, which means it takes longer for a truck to fill up.”
Only 18 percent of Weddington’s 73 subdivisions have fire hydrants. Additionally, 80 percent of homes use wells instead of county water. Of the town’s subdivisions, 60 of the 73 use only well water. Previously however, water pressure problems were mostly limited to the northern part of the town, where pressure during the low demand portions of the day barely meets the minimum requirements for fire departments to use hydrants. At peak demand times, there’s no guarantee the hydrants would have enough pressure to pump out the water. The new data shows that’s a problem across the entire town now, with low pressure hydrants near the Highgate subdivision, town hall and the commercial district.
Goscicki cautioned in his email that there wasn’t a quick fix however to the water pressure problems.
“We have been working for years to try to site a new elevated water tank in the Weddington area to mitigate low pressure issues,” Goscicki wrote. “We will check our distribution system immediately to make sure no valves are closed that could be adding to the problem.”
A proposed site for the water tower was rejected by the Weddington town council in November after more than a year of discussions between the town and county. The water tower was scheduled to be built at 247 Providence Road South, part of a 9 acre lot. Public Works officials wanted to use the 1.5 million gallon tower to improve static pressure and fire flow in the western portion of Union County during peak demand. Residents complained that it would be an eyesore and not safe for their kids to be around. Instead, they asked for the county to build a ground level water tank, which county commissioners said the town would need to pay for.
A ground level tank would raise the cost of the project to $6.18 million, $1.5 million more than a water tower. The reason for that is the fact the tower’s height helps direct and guide water flow. Ground level tanks would require a pump station.