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City Planning To Spend $10.5 Million Over The Next 10 Years Replacing Failing Water Pipes

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The city of Montpelier has plans to spend $10.5 million over the next 10 years replacing water pipes on 12 streets where the pipes have been failing at the fastest rates, according to Department of Public Works Director Kurt Motyka.

The plan would involve issuing $3 million in bonds in both 2030 and 2033, Motyka told The Bridge. An additional bond for pipe replacement work on East State Street has already been approved, and water rates will provide the rest of the funds.

The new plan is part of a Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) that was developed for the city by Dufresne Engineering. The state required the city to study the water system and provide an acceptable plan in order for the city to complete the requirements for a new state drinking water permit. Commenting on an earlier draft PER, the state told the city it should replace pipes at a faster rate than presented in Dufresne’s first draft.

In a June 28, 2023 letter to the city, an engineer in the state Drinking Water and Groundwater Protection Division, Allison Murphy, wrote: “It is imperative that the Water System work with urgency to replace the 11% of pipe beyond its useful life and address areas repeatedly affected by boil water notices, as the PER identifies another 35% of the distribution piping that is expected to exceed its useful life within the next 20 years.”

Motyka was planning to submit the final PER to the state Feb. 16 and said he thinks the state will be receptive to it, although it still requires official approval. Motyka was expected to speak to the City Council about the pipe replacement plan on Feb. 21.

Historically, the state has prioritized mandating hydrological improvements, Motyka said, which in Montpelier’s case would mean installing larger pipes on 14 roads to serve hydrants that are not up to standards. That work will now be delayed for 10 years while the failing pipes are replaced.

“The state shifted to dealing with the water mains on the streets where boil water notices are the most frequent, an approach we are onboard with,” Motyka said.

Motyka has acknowledged the city has an aging water system, with some water pipes over 100 years old. “That, combined with the high pressure we have, is a challenge for our community,” he said in a budget overview video made Dec. 16, 2022. But he believes that high pressure is not the main cause of the city’s frequent water main breaks. “I think it’s really the aging of the piping,” he said.

The high pressure and water main breaks have caused pressure-reducing valves in homes and commercial buildings to fail prematurely, according to local plumbers, and valve failures have in some cases led to damaged appliances such as hot water heaters and toilets. 

Montpelier has a 50-year plan to replace half of its water and sewer pipes, with most of the activity beginning in 2040 and beyond, according to a June 3, 2021 city memo. The estimated cost of the plan, according to the memo, is $83.2 million for water pipes and $83.2 million for sewer lines.

The plan calls for most of that pipe replacement work to occur in the back half of the 50-year plan because the city doesn’t have enough bond capacity to fund more work in the short-term, Assistant City Manager Kelly Murphy told The Bridge last March. “Ideally, we could be able to invest [in pipe replacement] right away, but in order to keep rates stabilized and our debt service policy intact,” more of the replacement work occurs later in the 50-year plan, she said. 

Motyka said the city would be updating the 50-year plan in 2026.