Replacement of the Gering water system is now about 50% finished, but won’t be complete for another 12 years

May 9, 2019

GERING — Now in its 102nd year of operation, the Gering water system is undergoing a long-term upgrade to meet the water needs of a growing city.

The entire project to replace the city’s water mains is now about 50% finished. The estimated completion date is 2031.

Pat Heath, Gering’s director of public works, said that while water line installation had started a few years before, the city’s water system officially went online in 1917. The lines were cast iron with no cement lining.

“The biggest problem we have with the water lines is corrosion from acid in the soil eating up the pipes,” Heath said. “Corrosion also develops on the inside of the pipes and effectively reduces the size.”

Gering has about 75 miles of water main under the city with 23,000 liner feet of infrastructure. Heath said that requires a priority system to identify which sections of town are in the most immediate need of replacement.

“The original area we replaced was in 2007 along R Street and Eighth Street on the north side of the junior high,” he said. “That was a small project but needed to be done because of deteriorating pipes. We were consistently having water main breaks there.”

The next time funding was available was in 2012 when the water mains along L Street from Seventh to Ninth streets were replaced, along with Ninth Street from L to M streets.

“We try to replace about a half-mile, or 2,200 linear feet every season,” Heath said. “That usually costs the city about $310,000, which we include in our annual budget.”

City crews are currently focusing on an older part of town with old service lines that connect the water main to the curb stop where homeowners connect to the system. Some of those service lines, maintained by the city, are lead and need to be replaced once they’re discovered, which could make the project more expensive.

As work progresses, old water lines are replaced with today’s standard polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe. In some rare cases, ductal iron pipe is necessary in areas that might have contaminated soil.

The last phase of construction will be done along 10th Street in the downtown area. “That part will be more of an inconvenience for downtown business owners so we’re going to delay it for as long as we can,” Heath said. “We’re also hoping that by the time we get to that phase, there will be new technology available that allows us to replace the lines without having to dig a big trench through downtown.”

But there won’t be any replacement work going on this construction season. When the city requested bids for this season’s work, all of them came back well over budget. Heath said they’ll try again this fall for work in the next budget year, which starts Oct. 1.

Heath said the next project for bid will be replacing lines along Fifth and Eighth streets. Those lines aren’t original, but were replaced in the mid-1970s.

“There’s some acidic soil in that area that’s been eating at the ductal iron pipe,” he said. “We’ve had a huge number of main breaks and other property damage over there.”

Heath said the Fifth Street area has been somewhat of a thorn for the city because when a main break occurs, the escaping water can shoot up to 60-80 feet in the air.

With no line replacements scheduled for this season, the city has some unused funding available to do a study of the entire Gering stormwater and drainage system. Unlike many other flatter municipalities that have more storm sewer infrastructure to help drain flooding, Gering’s drainage is on the surface, collecting at a low point along 10th Street.

From the stormwater drainage study, Gering will develop a master plan for where corrections are needed to prevent some of the flooding that still occurs in certain areas of town.