Water monitor goes 'haywire'

Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Mayor James Owen, right, confers with Lisa Cross, a community development specialist with the South Central Community Development District, about Petersburg's water supply monitoring system.

PETERSBURG -- Water in the town's reservoir is measured by a device that's been reporting there's plenty of water to fight a fire when there's not and the tank needs more water when it's overflowing.

"The water system's telemetric system is one of the biggest problems we have now," Mayor James Owen said during a recent public hearing that's required before the town may apply for a federal grant to pay for a new monitoring system.

An automated reporting system sends a signal to a recording device in the fire hall next to Town Hall. A paper disc is marked to report the rise and fall of water in the tank as water is used and replenished from the Fayetteville utility that sells Petersburg water.

Fayetteville Public Utilities has helped Petersburg deal with the telemetric system, town leaders said.

"We have run out of water at times," Owen said, blaming "fake readings" on the disc. "We've been blessed that we've not had a fire when this thing goes haywire."

Alderman Kenneth Richardson said, "A lightning strike knocks it out."

Lisa Cross of the South Central Community Development District writes grant applications for municipalities, utilities and counties across its service area. Cross was present during the Town Board's hearing on Jan. 22. She explained that a survey of residents would have to be conducted to verify that the town qualifies for a grant to pay 97 percent of the cost of a new water monitoring system for the water tank.

"We don't know how much the telemetric system will cost," Cross said when asked for the value of the grant.

Toward that end, the town would issue a request for qualifications, a statement from engineers to say why they're better than others to provide services such as evaluating the telemetric system and writing specifications for a replacement.

"Our system is so old that they had to search high and low to get replacement parts," Owen said.

Discussion among town leaders during the public hearing included an acknowledgement that at times someone must go to the water tank and deal with the measuring system there. That might also include manually turning a valve to bring more water into the tank.

It also means someone must close the valve.

"Sometimes the reservoir is overflowing," Police Chief Larry Harden said.

Petersburg has 343 residential water meters. They were replaced with a $94,000 federal grant that was matched by the city with $6,000. That grant-funded project has been completed.

The grant recommended by Cross for the telemetric system would require a three percent match, she said.

Also during the hearing, there were comments that the town needed to do something about storm water drainage. Town leaders and Cross concluded that could be the subject of another grant application within two years.