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Utilities and Environmental Services receives Innovations Award

Chris Spencer, Rick Whisenant, Alfredo Vences, Joe Garcia, Tony Dove and David Morales.

The Innovations Team presented the Innovations Award to staff members from Utilities and Environmental Services. Pictured: Chris Spencer, Rick Whisenant, Alfredo Vences, Joe Garcia, Tony Dove and David Morales.

The Innovations Team presented the Innovations Award to staff members from Utilities and Environmental Services for their metering of fire hydrants program.

The Utilities and Environmental Services Department has developed a more efficient, effective and environmentally-friendly procedure for flushing the City’s 600 dead-end main fire hydrants.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) requires that the City flush all dead-end main fire hydrants once a month to replace water that has been standing in the system to avoid corrosion, rust and reduced water pressure. Typically, these hydrants are flushed with a simple diffuser that lets the water flow out straight from the hydrant. This water was not metered so it was unaccounted for in the water system.

“About five or six years ago, we decided to meter the hydrants as we flushed them,” says Chris Spencer, utilities services superintendent.

The Utility staff added a meter to the diffuser to track the water. These meters weigh about 30 pounds and staff would have to lift and hook up the diffuser and meter about 20 to 25 times a day. This repetitive motion was hard on workers backs and could cause injury.

“Hauling these meters in and out of the truck eventually caused problems for the guys doing the flushing,” says Chris. “We have 600 hydrants to flush each month, so we’re out there pretty much every day.”

This year, staff decided to develop a better system. Tony Dove designed a meter/hose system and installed it on the back of a Utility truck. He welded the equipment with scraps from the shop.

Now staff hooks the lightweight hose to the hydrant and water passes through the meter and is released into the street instead of on the ground next to the hydrant.

“This system is so much easier to use,” says Chris. “The hose is only about 5 pounds and much easier to manage when hooking it up to the hydrant. There’s no need to bend over to pick it up, either.”

The metering goes much faster now. The new system has doubled the number of fire hydrants staff can flush in a day. The average had been 20 to 25 hydrants a day and now it is 40 to 45. It is much easier on workers and less likely to cause injuries.

“It is a huge time saver,” says Chris. “The process is much easier, quicker and more efficient than hooking up the heavy meter. The guys are much more cheerful about taking on the task. They even try to top each other’s numbers. It’s made the whole process more tolerable.”

Another advantage to the truck meter is that the water drains into the street rather than into resident’s yards from the hydrant.

“With the diffuser, the water would just go straight down and could mess up the grass,” says Chris. “So we have fewer issues with upset homeowners.”

In addition, the team added a dechlorinator unit to remove the chlorine traces from the water to protect the City’s creeks.

“The water in the hydrants is treated but it has chlorine traces,” says Chris. “We were at the American Water Works Association conference this spring and found a vendor selling these dechlorinator units. We decided to add the unit to our system to remove the chlorine. It’s just trace amounts, but everything we can do to protect our stormwater system helps.”

With this metering system, the City can track the more than 200,000 gallons of water a month that were being lost before the hydrant flushing was metered.

“We try to keep our water loss under 10 percent, so anytime you can account for your water is better,” says Chris. “It’s important to be as accountable as possible. Over the years we’ve gone from non-metering, to metering with an unwieldy system to an easy-to-use efficient system that protects the environment. We feel we have a good finished product. I’ve never seen another city with a setup like this.”