FLOWERY BRANCH — "Petey the Pipe" has become more than a conversation piece around City Hall.
The section of water pipe, once part of an 8-foot line buried underground at Church Street, has become a shining example — or maybe rusting one — of work that city officials are doing to modernize the water system.
"It’s work that no one sees or cares about until there’s a problem," said City Manager Bill Andrew.
"The city is spending a lot of time and effort on something that’s below the ground, and you only notice it when it doesn’t work."
Andrew began working for the city in March 2006 and soon pushed ahead the effort to update the water and sewer system, which has lines dating back to the 1950s or so.
The first chore was knowing the whereabouts of the lines.
Other than "several maps that had been kind of cobbled together over the years," city officials had relied on the collective memories of public works director Johnny Thomas and sewer plant superintendent Jimmy Dean, Andrew said.
The city was able to get a $20,000 grant to develop maps of the system, as well as the city’s stormwater system.
"We wanted to have an electronic mapping system, so we could eventually color-code all the different types of pipe, ages of pipe, size of pipe and all that," Andrew said.
The data will enable the city to set a replacement schedule for the pipes.
Andrew said he hopes the city can begin loading the information onto Hall County’s geographic information systems Web site, gis
public.hallcounty.org, within six months.
Before, when work needed to be done on lines, not having a sound knowledge of the lines’ locations caused a sundry of problems for water customers.
"Rather than cutting off a valve to isolate one section of town, it came to be that we had to cut off (water to) ... an entire half of the city," Andrew said.
"In the future, when we have leaks and when we’re replacing lines, we can shut off very small parts of the city ... and people will see less disruption of service."
With the work the city has done so far in mapping the system, officials said they think they can replace lines without affecting too many customers.
"We can isolate areas now," Thomas said.
The city has replaced water lines at Mulberry and Chestnut streets, Thomas said.
It also has spent $85,000 to replace seven fire hydrants and 12 water valves and install 530 backflow prevention devices at water customers’ homes.The city plans to apply in the spring for a $100,000 federal grant to install wider lines and add a fire hydrant on Morrow Drive off Lights Ferry Road.
"They’re underserved right now," Andrew said. "We’re relying on the fire department to bring in a pump truck or a tanker truck for fire service."
The city has budgeted $150,000 for the work assuming it doesn’t get the grant, which would require the city to kick in $50,000.
Aging lines are one problem; growing demand is another. City officials replaced the 2-inch-wide line on Mulberry Street with an 8-inch line.
"They really had no fire protection," Thomas said.
Chestnut Street had a three-quarter-inch line feeding four houses, so residents there "were starving for water," he said.
"The bigger (the pipe), the better," Thomas said.
The city has another $50,000 budgeted this year for other water line upgrades.
Thomas said he believes the city is "going in the right direction" with its improvements.
At one time, the city had a planned 270-home development on the edge of town that would have generated enough revenue to pay for a $910,000 "rehabilitation and upgrade of our entire water system," Andrew said.
"When the housing market fell out, that $910,000 fell out with it," he said.
By the same token, the city is using the economic slowdown to catch up on infrastructure improvements.
"We’re trying to prepare for that next wave of growth that we know is coming," he said.