Drinking water concerns rooted in Duluth’s aging pipes

Thirty-six million gallons of water are drawn from Lake Superior every day, according to the Lakewood Water Treatment Facility in Duluth. This water then travels through more than 400 miles of aging pipes underneath the city. The aging pipes are causing some concerns for Duluth residents about the quality of their drinking water. “I live in a triplex and we face some problems with our water,” said John Blair, a Duluth resident who lives off of Greysolon Road. “The water has a tint of rustic color to it for about a minute and you can usually find some rocky sediment coming out of the faucet.”

The problem is not with the water itself, said Howard Jacobson, the operations manager of the Lakewood Water Treatment Facility. The problem is found in the pipes. Over 85 percent of the system was constructed with cast iron pipe, a piping material that has experienced rapid deterioration and failure over the years. Since every home is connected to the water line, the systems throughout residential areas tend to experience some of the erosion in the pipes.

“The basic water system was laid between 1890 and 1923,” said Dan Berg, the utility operations supervisor at the Department of Public Works and Utilities in Duluth.

In order to maintain the wellbeing of residents’ homes, inspections are completed to find small problems that could potentially lead to larger issues.

Source State Farm insurance. Art Credit: Ethan Walker

“Houses with neglect serve us with the most problems,” said Ken Van Dyke, the licensed owner of the Van Dyke Home Inspection Company located in Duluth.

“If I turn on the faucet, we usually see a blast of rust,” said Van Dyke. “That’s something we just have to accept.”

Berg says the problems with the system are moving west across Lakeside.

“It’s an electrochemical process that turns cast iron into graphite, therefore the pipe is weakened,” said Berg.

This process occurs after a spike in water pressure. A blast of vibration can crack a pipe and cause it to leak. These cracks increase in size when the ground freezes. According to the Public Utilities and Services Profile, the number of water main breaks per year has risen from 7 to 70 in the last 40 years. A break can be seen when water bursts up onto the streets and starts to wash everything away. Duluth now averages 120 breaks per year.

“Our goal is to get that number down,” said Steve Lipinski, the manager of utility operations at the Department of Public Works and Utilities.

The Lakewood Water Treatment Facility supplies water to Proctor, Hermantown and Duluth. This means the residents living throughout these cities may face rising repair costs due to the weakening pipes.

According to the Public Utilities and Services Profile, “The city has estimated that 30-year replacement costs could range from $49.9 million to $78.4 million.” This assumes that the city would replace 35 to 50 percent of the entire water system.

“The city demands 16 million gallons of water taken from Lake Superior every day,” said Jacobson. “This means there is room for future expansion.”

Do you have any problem with the aging water pipes in your area? What do you think need to be done. Let us know in the comments.

Iraq and Back: Part 3 Tristyn Runia

Northland man creates birdhouses from scratch