Ann Arbor avoids water shut down, looks to address crumbling infrastructure

Monday, November 27, 2017 - 11:34pm

Ann Arbor weathered a water emergency last week, but concerns remain for the future of the city’s vital infrastructure.

Craig Hupy, Ann Arbor’s public services administrator, told City Council last Monday that one of two pipelines bringing water from the Huron River to the city’s water treatment plant off Sunset Road ruptured on Nov. 18. The situation prompted city officials to attempt to divert the flow from the ruptured line to the other line; however, the initial attempts failed, forcing the city to bring in an outside contractor.

On Tuesday, engineers successfully isolated the leaking pipeline by using a technique called line stop, which provided isolation without using valves.

The accident caused some concern last week as Hupy warned city residents may have to brace for an emergency measure that would force them to limit their water use for two to three days.

Though Hupy assured the council that treated stored water would be safe to drink, city officials feared a water shortage may adversely affect residents’ Thanksgiving plans and the football game against Ohio State University.

The pipeline leak occurred at a time when Ann Arbor and municipalities across the United States are looking to revamp their outdated infrastructure.

For instance, a majority of members on City Council are in favor of relocating the city’s Amtrak Station from Depot Street to Fuller Park, arguing Ann Arbor needs a new station to match projected ridership increases in the future. And repairing Michigan’s non-federally funded roads, 56 percent of which is in poor condition, is a hotly contested topic in this year’s gubernatorial elections.

Nationally, the Trump administration promised about $1 trillion in infrastructure improvements, but specific plans remain elusive. However, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimated the government would need to spend $4.59 trillion to even reach an acceptable level of infrastructure quality.

The United States’s aging bridges, tunnels and dams are in need of repair; already, more than 188,000 people were forced to evacuate after damage was found at the Oroville Dam in California earlier this year.

Though the council has not indicated whether the water treatment plant in question would need an overhaul, Hupy estimated creating an entirely new line would cost the city tens of millions of dollars.

A project of that size would add to the city’s other priorities like storm water management, road improvements, environmental protection and the projected $85 billion station, if it were to be built. The future of Ann Arbor’s rising infrastructure costs remains to be seen.