Featured, Latest News, State Government

PSC completes fire hydrant survey, recommends 10-year replacement program

MORGANTOWN — The state Public Service Commission recently completed its statewide fire hydrant survey and issued some recommendations, including a 10-year, $70 million program for public utilities to replace aging hydrants.

The PSC opened a general investigation into hydrant safety on June 30, at the request of the governor, following a Charleston house fire where three hydrants in the vicinity couldn’t produce a flow of water to deal with the fire.

Rural hydrants are required to have a 500-gallon-per-minute flow, while the statewide minimum is 250 gpm. They must be able to function for two hours — needing 60,000 gallons of storage in the system.

The American Water Works Association sets the accepted consensus standard that hydrants must be inspected annually and flow-tested every three or five years.

PSC previously said the survey would allow it to develop a more-extensive database on maintenance and testing of the tens of thousands of hydrants across the state, how many are in compliance and what the PSC or the Legislature needs to do to encourage compliance. It never before required any utility to provide anything other than the number of hydrants.

The PSC told legislators in August that hydrants are designed to last 100 years, and there are a few that old, but the majority — according to the responses filed so far — are less than 50 years old and parts are still available.

Costs for replacing hydrants can be a deterrent for small utilities, the PSC said. New hydrants on new water lines cost about $5,000 each. New hydrants on existing lines, as part of a bigger project, cost $10,000 each, and one utility reported replacing 10 at $13,000 apiece.

In last week’s 40-page report, PSC said there are 49,906 hydrants across the state, with 95% operated by utilities and 5% in private hands. West Virginia American Water had the most, at 10,548, and the average number of hydrants per utility was 194.

As we reported in July, Morgantown Utility Board has 557 hydrants, with 226 older than 50 years old, and another 219 it doesn’t know the age of because they came to MUB through acquiring other water systems. MUB doesn’t know the whole amount of privately owned hydrants but is aware of 103.

MUB inspects on average 1,065 hydrants per year. Hydrant maintenance and replacement costs about $97,486 per year. It has removed and replaced 27 hydrants in the last five years, and installed another 145 new ones.

The PSC report said not enough utilities are testing the water flow through their systems and devices. It also said a number of the hydrants are aging and ought to be replaced on a faster cycle.

The report suggested the creation of a 10-year Hydrant Replacement Grant program, with a legislative appropriation of $70 million. The cost estimate includes inspection of 36,026 hydrants at $3.6 million; replacement of 4,736 hydrants at $4.74 million; additional project costs of $9.47 million; and a 15% contingency fund of $9.1 million.

The report said national testing standards should be added to the state rules, and all water utilities operating fire hydrants should be required to certify in their annual report the number of hydrants inspected and the number of flow tests completed for the year.

The PSC will make copies of the report available to the governor and the Legislature, PSC Chair Charlotte R. Lane said.

EMAIL: dbeard@dominionpost.com

TWEET @DominionPostWV