(Fargo, ND) -- Ben Dow, Public Works Operations Director with the City of Fargo
Water Mains & Hydrants
The Water Mains & Hydrants division operates under the Public Services department in Fargo. Their job is to take care of the water services going to every home and business in the city, maintain Fargo's hydrants, and keep the more than 540 miles of water piping in the city in working order. That piping consists of a combination of three materials; PVC Piping, concrete, and in some cases cast iron. Dow says the cast iron pipes have caused water main breaks in the past, largely because of Fargo's acidic soil.
"We call it 'Hot Soil', its very acidic... the soil will literally eat it away; eat the gate away, eat the bolts away, and work on the cast iron main, "said Dow, "We have some really old cast iron that's in really good shape that we don't have any water main breaks on it. There's a correlation of whenever we were in war time, anything that was put in around that time for cast iron mains was not good metal because the good metal was going for bullets and planes and tanks and stuff like that."
However, Dow says there has been a significant decrease in the number of water main failures in the last thirty years. Data from their website shows the number of water main failures decreased from 254 in 1990 down to 38 in 2016. He attributes decrease to a program they started replacing pipe services that connect the city's water piping to each home or business, which sometimes contained lead. The City began replacing that piping, along with placing plastic covers overtop of at-risk water mains across Fargo, replacing multiple city gates with stainless steel bolts, and other proactive actions. As a result, Dow says the drop in water main breaks has been significant.
"Last year it was 19 [breaks], "said Dow, "Last year was our best year ever."
When an emergency event hits Fargo, including severe storms, flood events, or disasters of a similar scale, the Public Works departments all join together to become a single force. Dow says the 'all-hands on deck' strategy allows them to more effectively move and tackle potential system-wide threats that can impact the entire city's water supply.
Dow says one example of their emergency management practices in motion is highlighted during flood events. He says these circumstances can lead to neighborhoods becoming flooded with river water, an event that could spell disaster for the whole city if not managed properly. If river water were to enter a water main pipe and travel to Fargo's Water Treatment Facility, it would force the city to shut down all water services until the plant and the pipelines are able to pass a series of tests. An event like this would not only affect Fargo residents for several days, but also West Fargo, because they purchase water from Fargo through an agreement between the two cities. So, in an abundance of caution, Water Mains and Hydrants are tasked with segregating at-risk homes from the main system if river water has a chance to make it to the treatment facility.
"If we lose this area, and we know we are going to lose it, we are going to go out there and shut the water mains off at the gate. This area of town, these 100 homes in this area of town is going to lose water, but we are going to maintain and keep the other rest of the residents online, "said Dow.
Another task that Water Mains and Hydrants does for the community is painting sixty to eighty fire hydrants every day each summer across the city. Dow says the hydrants must be maintained not only for aesthetic purposes but also for real safety reasons as well. He says this is because firefighters need to know information based on the color of the hydrants, either red or yellow, that the fire department takes into consideration when battling blazes across the city.
"That is the one maintenance activity that nobody recognizes that we are doing it. It has to be done, you go to communities and you see where they are not doing that, it shows wear and tear. We don't want to be doing that, "said Dow.
You can learn more about Fargo's Water Mains and Hydrants Department by clicking here.