Robbins Facing Water Problems
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Robbins has too much water, and it's causing a problem.
It might not always be troublesome. All over the county, water needs are on a growing curve likely to spiral even higher as the population increases. A countywide water plan may be in the works.
But for now, the increase in water production that the town went into debt to achieve means higher rates and higher taxes than the town commissioners like.
Robbins borrowed money to increase the capacity of its water treatment plant so as not to risk losing its biggest customer, the poultry processing plant on N.C. 705.
Perdue closed the plant anyway within a year, leaving Robbins with a debt to pay and a contract requiring the purchase of 100,000 gallons a day from Montgomery County.
At the present time, so much less water goes through town pipes to water customers that the chemicals used to keep down bacteria are being lost before the water is used. Higher temperatures speed the loss.
Some towns use chlorine gas to protect the water. Others, such as Carthage and Robbins, combine ammonia and chlorine to form a more stable compound -- a chloramine -- which will persist over a longer time in water systems.
Chloramine (monochloramine) is a chemical compound with the formula NH2Cl. Chloramines have to be maintained at higher levels, because they are inherently weaker in action than chlorine itself.
Hot summer days warmed water even in buried pipes to the point chloramine levels had to go up.
When Brant Sikes -- new public works supervisor for Robbins -- started checking levels, he found the line from Montgomery County unacceptably and unaccountably low in chloramines.
"It wasn't awfully low," he said. "It was lower than it should have been. It was lower than I like it to be."
Sikes' investigation discovered a leak at the ammonia insertion point near the Moore-Montgomery county line. Once town crews repaired it, chloramine levels climbed to acceptable standards.
Flushing the System
To maintain sufficient levels and properly control bacteria between water plant and kitchen faucet, Robbins frequently opens fire hydrants to flush out the water pipes and keep freshly treated water available for homes and businesses.
That's hard to do, and it means throwing water away.
Some parts are on lines where flushing is not easy to do. There is a tank at the old Klaussner plant that holds 300,000 gallons. With the plant closed, no water is being used from that tank at the present time. It's been standing there so long that virtually no chloramines are left.
"We have what we call 'dead water' in that tank," Sikes told town commissioners last week. "But we need it in case of fire."
J.D. Monroe is a water treatment plant consultant in the Public Water Supply Section of the Division of Environmental Health. It is an agency of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Until July, 2002, he was also the fire chief of Carthage.
"I have advised them to take that Klaussner plant off line, just cut it out of the system," Monroe said. "They can keep the water that's in it for fire service."
Sikes is following Monroe's advice.
"We are taking it off line entirely, valving it off so nothing goes in or is taken out," Sikes said. "We are taking it out of circulation but leaving the water in it for fire protection."
Robbins is, however, not losing as much water to leakage as rumor had it. That was the one bit of good news Sikes could pass to the Town Board.
"I thought I was going to see a huge loss, but I am not seeing that," he says. "I am not seeing a huge loss. I am seeing a huge supply outweighing demand."
He hopes NC STEP, visitors attracted by the Mid-Atlantic Star Party, and new workers moving to town if Fibrowatt chooses Robbins for its power plant, will be the badly needed water users the town needs.
State help with another problem is no longer on the horizon.
Like many small North Carolina towns, Robbins is facing a looming and expensive prospect.
With old, outdated and failure-prone water and sewer systems, these towns will soon need to spend lots of money replacing long-buried water mains and sewer pipes.
A bond issue to help them failed to pass in the last General Assembly. That was not good news for Robbins.
"Our infrastructure is extremely old -- everything from pipes to meters," Sikes said. "Our sewer system still uses a lot of the old terra cotta pipes."
All that needs frequent repair.
"Galvanized pipe, old galvanized pipes they used 40 to 50 years ago, are our water pipes," he said. "That is what goes to houses. It has outlived expectancy. For service lines to houses, I like to use copper-rated plastic pipe. Copper cost is outrageous. CTS plastic piping is just as good as copper, rated like copper at 200 psi, and a whole lot better than galvanized. It is heavy duty stuff. It is black pipe, but it is not the old roll stuff. For water mains I like SDR21, a white PVC pipe."
Sikes would love to replace Robbins water pipes with it, would love to repipe service lines with CTS. There's just no way to pay for it at present.
"The sums are not here," Sikes said. "We know what we would like to have, if we could afford it. That's where I stand."
John Chappell can be reached at 783-5841 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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