For Small Cities Month, the National League of Cities is exploring innovative projects and developments that bring will bring small cities to the next level and improve life for residents and business owners.
Hendersonville, N.C., is a small city, but its Water and Sewer Department serves a growing population as Henderson County sees an influx of residents – who also will receive their water from Hendersonville.
“I think this is the best water you can get,” Jeremy Poss, Technology and Metering Manager, said. “The water source is protected by tens of thousands of acres of national forest.”
Water from that unspoiled forest goes to a water treatment plant outside of Hendersonville, where it then is distributed to residents throughout the county. Henderson County is growing by leaps and bounds, and the water department is using the latest technology and implementing a water system master plan to meet milestones in increasing capacity.
Although Hendersonville itself is a small town of 17,000 residents, tens of thousands more live in Henderson County and that number is expected to increase. To provide clean, safe water, the Hendersonville water department employs a number of new technologies that help staff determine what areas need an increase in capacity and what areas are in need of repair.
When Hendersonville water employees make a repair in the system, they enter it into their work routing system and include that information on a “heat map” to see which areas have the most breaks.
“The more breaks you have, the more likely it is that the line will fail,” Poss said, noting the practice allows them to prioritize which areas to replace or upgrade lines and pumping stations.
Recently, the department began using a modeling program that takes into account a host of variables, including line size and population clusters, to determine where flow needs to be improved or increased. Poss explained that the model could account for developments not yet built so the water department could be proactive in upgrading the lines and preventing a low-flow problem before it could develop.
The water department also shares that information with the local fire department, so they can determine whether their hydrants have adequate flow. Not only does this make the community safer, but it also lowers insurance rates for homeowners.
Hendersonville also implemented Advanced Metering Infrastructure, allowing customers to see their usage online and even establish alert thresholds for usage and billing – something that improves customer satisfaction for the water department.
“[The customers] really like that,” Poss said.
Customers can register on AquaHawk and view their usage when it’s convenient for them, and some even use it to keep an eye on their homes when they’re out of town.
“We’ll get a call, ‘I think I left the outside bib faucet on,’” Poss said. “That happens more than you would think.”
That isn’t even the extent of the technology the Hendersonville water department employs – the department also uses a Geographic Information System to help map their system.
Hendersonville’s water department was established in the 1920s, and it wasn’t an easy task – locomotives and mule trains were needed to haul the pipe needed to carry water from the national forest to the community.
“It’s pretty wild, to see the pictures of the horse-drawn wagons that hauled the pipes,” Poss said.
Although the community’s water system has grown and modernized since then, that old system has still left its mark on Hendersonville.
“We still come across the wooden pipes, excavating downtown,” Poss said, noting that while the pipes remain in the ground, they are no longer part of the system.
Hendersonville has come a long way – from wooden pipes to high-tech models – and has partnered with the National League of Cities Service Line Warranties Program, administered by Utility Service Partners, a HomeServe company, to better educate their residents about their responsibility to maintain and repair their water and sewer service lines.
“A lot of people are surprised to learn that [service lines] are their responsibility,” Poss said. “They think we can come and locate and repair their leak, but we have no way to know where the lines even are. The line from the meter into the house is [the homeowner’s] responsibility.”
While the water department isn’t responsible for repairing leaking lines on private property, employees will attempt to help determine where a leak is, if possible. Only licensed plumbers are permitted to open the department’s meter boxes. The department encourages homeowners to install their own shutoff valve on their side of the meter and offers a discount for doing so.
Poss noted that many more homeowners are aware of their responsibilities since the SLWP began educational campaigns in the community. He also encourages residents to sign up for the service line warranties through SLWP.
“When you need it, it’s a good thing to have – I’ve heard a lot of stories,” he said, adding that he has looked into several other vendors offering similar products, but SLWP offers the best value for the price.
In addition to educating homeowners about their service line responsibilities, the Service Line Warranty Program offers warranties for service lines. The work is performed by licensed, local plumbers who will call the customer within one hour of filing a claim. For information about the program, contact us.