It takes a unique kind of person to jump into a 10-foot deep hole that’s often filled with water and surrounded by dirt. Even in frigid temperatures, it’s a job Colorado Springs Utilities’ water construction crews are happy to perform and admit they wouldn’t do anything else.
“You have to be bred for this job, and if you’re not, you won’t last,” said lead journeyman pipefitter Christian Gilbert.
Gilbert and his fellow water construction employees are responsible for maintaining nearly 2,000 miles of water pipe – some installed 40-50 years ago – that stretch across a large area, one that includes places beyond the city limits, such as Green Mountain Falls. Their scope of work includes leak detec-tion, hydrant maintenance, replacement projects, new pipe installations and water main break repairs.
It’s easy for most of us to take the process of repairing a water main for granted. Isn’t it as simple as digging to the pipe, making a repair and fixing the street again?
“There is so much that goes into fixing a water main before we even start digging,” said Gilbert. “Public safety is most important, so we do a complete evaluation of who we’re impacting and how best to manage the situation to minimize these impacts and keep people from getting hurt.”
This evaluation includes a determination if critical care customers, hospitals or assisted living facilities would be impacted by a water outage, as well as traffic flow issues and what else is underground near the location of a main break.
Just shutting off water flow is much more involved than simply turning a spigot. Accessing an underground valve box can require the use of a jackhammer and one 20-inch diameter valve takes as many as 80 turns to fully deactivate it.
Beyond weather conditions and the unique challenges that go along with each water main break, Gilbert said that dodging traffic can be difficult to manage.
“A majority of customers are extremely understanding of why we’re in the street and we appreciate that,” he said. “But, we still experience our fair share of people ignoring barricades or speeding through construction zones. We just ask them for their patience and to think about the families and their own lives that could be impacted if something happened.”