IGNACIO – At the end of May, old irrigation pipes burst in Ignacio after the town tried to pressurize the system, sending water up through cracks in asphalt and creating sinkholes underneath roads.
Adding pressure to the irrigation system is part of Ignacio’s infrastructure-improvement project, and this summer, town staff will be watching the ground for signs of more leaks.
Ignacio Public Works has turned off the pressurized system, and residents who use irrigation water, a completely separate system from drinking water, will rely on the former gravity-flow system for landscaping and gardening this season. Since May’s leaks caused road and system damage, town staff decided to delay further tests until the irrigation season ends. Funding challenges will make it difficult to replace the entire system; however, Public Works has repaired known cracks and hopes to have the pressurized irrigation system running again in September.
“We just don’t have enough revenue to match the funds that we need for our projects,” said interim Town Manager Mark Garcia. Most grants require the town to match funds. “We can only do so much without putting an excessive burden on your citizens.”
The pipes burst in the morning on May 22 after a town contractor started up a new pumphouse at 50 psi, the engineered pre-set pressure on the pump. The town bought the pumphouse through an Irrigation Infrastructure Project grant to address low pressure issues, between 5 and 15 psi, in the gravity-flow system’s higher elevation areas.
When the thin-walled pip lines cracked, three sinkholes formed under two roads. One on Maple Avenue was about 6-by-6 feet, large enough for a car to fall into, said Chris Howlett, Ignacio Public Works director.
The Public Works staff worked from May 22 to May 24 identifying leaks, turning the pump station off to make repairs, and modifying system pressure. While the leaks on Maple were caused by old infrastructure, improper installation caused the two leaks on Tranquilo Court, Howlett said.
Public works repaired the Maple sinkhole in early June and two on Tranquilo Court on Monday. This summer, residents will depend on the former non-pressurized, gravity-flow system.
Ignacio’s irrigation system provides raw water to 250 people and operates between May and September. Built in 1993, the piping runs for 6.9 miles underground and is made of asbestos concrete and pip, according to a 2015 Capital Improvement Report.
Fully replacing the pip lines would be costly and is not a high priority for the town, Garcia said.
“As a nation, we have not funded infrastructure adequately, so things are failing, like bridges and roads and stuff of that nature,” he said. “So really, this is just us trying to get in front of failing infrastructure or aging infrastructure.”
The pump house installation was part of the town’s effort to update all of its existing water infrastructure. It is following suggestions and addressing deficiencies outlined in the report. Town management has replaced the water storage pond to prevent leaks and improve flow, modeled pressurization for the irrigation system, created a bypass line, and started replacing water pressure valves.
The town has no way of knowing where leaks might be. They only know there’s an issue when they see water coming up through cracks in pavement or holes forming in the soil beside a road, Howlett said.
For most homeowners, the May pipe breaks were a minor inconvenience; however, for one couple, Jim and Tabitha Formea, the breaks damaged their house.
Unlike the other houses on the street, the Formea’s water valve is located in the crawl space under their home. After 20 minutes of water flowing into the space, it was “totally flooded out.” Jim guessed that if the water had been running for longer, “it would’ve been catastrophic. We would’ve had a total loss.”
“If we would’ve come home three hours later, it would’ve come up through the crawlspace into the house,” Jim said. “Fortunately, it didn’t happen that way.”
Ten minutes after they reported the break, a Public Works crew was at their house. The town promptly lent the couple a sump pump for the crawl space and kept in communication with the couple throughout the process.
The couple was so grateful, “we bought them pizzas last Friday,” Jim said.