First Canton water summit breaks down big issues

By Lindsay Curtin | Feb 29, 2016
Photo by: Lindsay Curtin

CANTON — On the heels of several water conservation notices — both voluntary and, at times, mandatory, boil water advisories and several water line breaks, the town of Canton officials are laying everything out on the table to help residents understand the big issues pressing the town's water system.

Low water pressure and water line breaks served as a large problem for the town of Canton, not only this winter, but for years. However, these problems are all part of a complicated explanation, and they were addressed in great detail at Tuesday’s three-hour inaugural water summit.

Roughly 15 people attended the public event at the Colonial Annex Theater, including three board of aldermen members, the mayor, town manager, assistant town manager, chief filter plant operator, water and sewer department officials, McGill and Associates Senior Project Manager Mike Waresak, Division of Water Resources representative Randy Hintz, Canton Mill Wastewater Treatment Plant Supervisor Nick McCracken, and less than a handful of curious residents.

The discussion focused mostly on recent failures and threats in the Canton water system and possible plans to fix the issues.

A second issue involved future opportunities that could bring in more revenue for the town and a secondary water resource in case of an emergency situation.

“There are very large problems to solve but they are solvable,” said Canton Town Manager Seth Hendler-Voss.

Canton water and sewer department head, Richard Hodge and Hendler-Voss came prepared to the summit, sharing extensive details about why things are the way they are, where things need to be and why water quality is of utmost importance for water customers.

Hodge emphasized many of the changes and or updates proposed at the summit are not a matter of want, but necessity in the way of avoiding health problems and hefty state fines.

The Town of Canton water system has served the residents of Canton and Clyde for more than 70 years, Hodge said in an information packet distributed to those in attendance. Repairs and upkeep to the system have been needed on a regular basis.

“There has been very little effort made to improve or replace our aging infrastructure in the past 20 years that I am aware of,” Hodge wrote. “ The time has come that the town needs to start addressing and planning for upkeep and revitalization for the aging system to continue providing water service to our community.”

Hendler-Voss and Hodge presented information in a clear and detailed fashion, making sure no stone was left unturned.

There are a number of threats to the Canton water system, including:

Low water pressure

Hendler-Voss said there are many people with concerns about low pressure, specifically in the areas of  Newfound Street  Spruce Street, the top of Radio Hill  and the far reaches of Dutch Cove. McGill and Associates, the engineering firm working with the town, has been working on a solution and are they’re putting together a cost estimate for a pressurized system.

Freezing temperatures

When a freeze spell hits the area, water meter readings incidate many industrial and residential customers run water in evening hours to prevent lines from bursting.

"We had an additional 6 million gallons used in the month of January. This isn’t because our customers are being greedy, it’s a force of habit," said Hendler-Voss. "When you have a water system like ours and the consumption increases by 6-10 million gallons a month, that puts tremendous stress on the system.”

Hendler-Voss added when the water gets “sucked” from the system during these high water consumption times, the areas at the higher elevation suffer from low pressure.

“When you have a water line break, it takes a stressed system and kicks it in the pants. The Spruce Street reservoir was built too low. It was designed to function for the demand at the time it was built and it’s not performing well anymore."

A possible solution could be constructing a new water tank, but Hendler-Voss said these the issue was a big one that will be costly to solve.

Hendler-Voss emphasized that it’s not the cold weather spells only that cause low pressure.

“We have it outside of the cold months too, which is concerning. It’s a very serious issue. The sheer age of our system — the lines are old, the pumps are aging in the distribution and filtration plants and the valves are old.

Fire protection

Hodge clarified for the audience the importance of keeping water system issues in the foreground.

“This is not a want. If we don’t provide adequate water pressure or fire protection, the town will be fined $25,000 a day every day until the system is brought into standards. These issues are important. We need to meet current state guidelines," said Hodge. "I have to ensure with my position that it meets state requirements. If I don’t do that, I’ve failed the town, and I’ve failed the citizens. We have to address it and move forward with it.”

Work force

Hendler-Voss and Hodge both addressed the issue of water and sewer department manpower, too. Several employees are averaging 56 hours a week, remaining on call around the clock.

There is an issue with getting more talent to the area because of the stringent certification process. Becoming a certified operator requires classes and passing a difficult exam. Hendler-Voss said it’s of utmost importance to have highly trained people working on the water system. He lightly dropped the news that he's having very early-stage talks with Haywood Community College about a possible operator continuing education program.

Another risk to Canton’s water system is a lack of a secondary source of water in the event the Pigeon River water quality became compromised.

“In an emergency, an interconnect would be extremely advantageous. This would allow us to draw water from another municipality in an emergency,” said Hendler-Voss.

Current efforts to avert threats

While many ideas are still in the planning stage, town leaders have started to earnestly implement a few strategies to ease the issues at hand.

Right now, town officials are creating a system wide model — something the town has never had before. The model, once complete, will show all waterlines and pinpoint where the deficiencies are when there are peak demands.

Finding a way to address the low pressure at the Spruce Street reservoir appeared to top the priority list of averting water issues in Canton.

“What can we do to solve this issue quickly and affordably? This project will have to come back to the board for their input and direction, but water towers and pump stations are ideas we will bring to the board,” said Hendler-Voss.

Coordination of hydrant flowing between fire departments and the town was also an idea to help ease water pressure problems. The idea is to craft a policy to where town officials know where and when fire stations plant to flow their hydrants. This way, residents can be warned ahead of time that water pressure may be low for a short period of time.

Moving forward with the water meter replacement program as addressed as another plan that could help with infrastructure issues.

In a March 2015 board of aldermen meeting, the board approved the financing of $421,217 for the upgrading of its water meter system.

Radio meters allow the town to ensure if there are leaks, it is know where they are occurring. These meters provide more reliable, accurate readings.

Hodge presented data that clearly demonstrated the improved account water consumption readability.

“If someone calls and said their water bill said their usage was much higher than they actually used, I can show them a clear chart that says what date the water usage was high, and between what hours,” said Hodge. “These meters weren’t put in just to spend money. These systems are so important for accountability to the state and customers.”

Hendler-Voss added the new meters demand accountability of water customers, allowing less water to end up as “non-revenue,” meaning, the town gets shorted what is owed. Hendler-Voss reminded the group Canton, in fact, continues to have some of the lowest, most competitive water prices around.

Canton’s billing administrator Patty Rathbone explained the impressive change in employee time dedication required for checking the newer meters, compared to old ones. For example, Rathbone shared that with the old meters, conducting readings on Dutch Cove would take about a full day, now, it only takes about an hour to do those same readings using the new meters.

Rathbone added she was still crunching the numbers to figure the town's savings by way of more accurate readings.

While the upgrades will be costly, Hendler-Voss presented preliminary ideas to cover the costs, including providing water service to neighboring towns and communities.

“We have such an opportunity in Canton to do just that. If the town of Canton plans ahead and in the process of trying to fix these deficiencies and threats, we can future proof our town,” said Hendler-Voss. “There’s an added bonus of an emergency interconnect for both parties and it would serve as a reliable source of revenue. Why not future proof ourselves for when the time comes to expand?"


Canton water distribution quick facts:

  • System is around 100 + years old
  • 3,700 connections
  • 3,162 active accounts, more than 2,900 are residential and more than 300 are commercial.
  • 25-30 million gallons are sold each month ( 28.5 million in the month of January).
  • Largest Customers: (by size of usage) Evergreen 5-6 million a month, Clyde 1-2 million a month, ConMet, Ameripride.