VALPARAISO | It's not all fun and games at Valparaiso's Water Department during National Drinking Water Week, but some of it is.
The annual drinking water week observance is held to remind people of the importance of conserving and preserving the nation's fresh water supply. To draw attention to the week, the department has the Frog Family Fun Game at its offices this week for preschoolers to receive a box of crayons and a coloring book.
Adults can enter a drawing for a $25 Valpo Chamber gift certificate. The department also is handing out information on water conservation and the wellhead protection program, which keeps contaminants away from the wells the city uses as its water supply.
Valparaiso has 225 miles of underground watermains, 40 percent of which are made of cast iron ranging in age from 40 to 100 years. The expected life span of cast iron pipes is 50 years.
"We got a lot of watermains in town that need replaced," Mark Geskey, assistant distribution manager, said. "We try to get a mile replaced each year, but it's hard to do."
Geskey said it cost $105 per foot to replace a water main on Napoleon Street in 2012. At that rate, it would cost $48.8 million to replace all 88 miles of cast iron pipe in the system with the preferred ductile iron pipe, which Geskey said has more flexibility to handle the movement of the ground caused by the freezing and thawing cycle.
Ductile iron has an expected life span of 75 to 100 years, which means the city should be replacing more than two miles of pipe a year to maintain a 100-year replacement schedule. For now the city budgets $500,000 a year for the one mile of replacement pipe, but plans to increase that to $750,000 in 2014.
The mild winters the last two years have reduced the number of water main breaks to around 70 after a couple years of about 100 a year. This year got off to a bad start with 21 breaks in January, but Geskey said it has dropped off to five or six a month since then.
This year's plans are to replace the watermain on LaPorte Avenue from the Eastgate roundabout to Garfield Street and several water mains in the area of the five-points roundabout, to be built this year at North Calumet Avenue, Vale Park Road and Roosevelt Road.