Waterline Road Repairs

Mark Richardson looks down the ravine Monday that washed out a section of the Waterline Road and severed the city of Flagstaff's water pipeline. The ravine was created by floodwaters from the Schultz Fire. The city is spending $4 million to rebuild the road and repair the pipeline. (Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun)

Jake Bacon

City Manager Kevin Burke ended his day Monday by handing out 100-year-old pieces of broken clay once used to deliver water from the Inner Basin to Flagstaff residents.

The fragments of the original pipe are now keepsakes as the city begins the complicated process of rebuilding the essential water line that delivers 2 million gallons of potable water daily to Flagstaff customers.

The city broke ground Monday on the massive $4 million reconstruction process, nearly two years after a series of thunderstorms caused major damage following the Schultz fire.

Heavy debris damaged or otherwise rendered Waterline Road impassable in at least 40 locations. The water line itself, which is responsible for up to 20 percent of the city's water supply during peak summer months, was severed in 17 separate places.

Overlapping jurisdictions, securing grants to pay for the reconstruction and a push to relocate a portion of the pipeline to get it out of a wilderness area made for some long nights, Burke told a small group of government employees and private contractors.

At one point, he said, the city was considering using mules to carry the ductile iron pipeline into sensitive forested areas -- the exact same way the original pipeline was brought out to the Inner Basin in 1898.

The U.S. Forest Service signed off on environmental clearances and offered partial funding to realign the pipeline so that heavy motorized equipment could be used.

Portions of the current pipe were only a few years old when the 2010 storms washed away entire sections.

The city spent roughly 20 years replacing three individual waterlines with a single 16-inch ductile iron pipeline that is in use today. That project ended in 2006 when the last sections were replaced.

On Monday, Burke thanked the various guests for helping to make the reconstruction a reality.

"I want to thank the numerous agencies and organizations that came together in a collaborative fashion to allow this project to come to fruition," Burke said, listing a half-dozen agencies, including construction crews, various state and federal agencies, Gov. Jan Brewer and U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Doney Park.

The freshman congressman, who drove up from Phoenix to attend the event, said, "I was just thankful to be one of the spokes in the wheel to get this thing done."

While offering praise to various officials, Gosar turned his attention to the construction crews, saying the Herculean task of rebuilding the pipeline is a little like Beltway politics.

"Boy, I sure would love to help you out and get on one of the tractors or help you out with one of the shovels. Maybe it will feel like getting something done in Washington, D.C." Gosar said.

City officials are expecting the repairs to the pipeline to take at least six months, with water from the Inner Basin flowing into the city again sometime in early 2013. The city does not rely on water from the Inner Basin during the winter because heavy snow on forest roads make it impossible for crews to perform any maintenance.

Relying on other water sources, primarily wells, is costing the city an additional $6,000 a day, city officials predict. The bulk of that cost is for electricity for pumping water out of city-controlled wells.

The city primarily relies on gravity to deliver water from the Inner Basin to its termination point 13 miles away near the Museum of Northern Arizona.

The cost of the repair project is expected to top $4 million, with funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Forest Service, the Coconino National Forest, the Federal Emergency Management Administration, the Arizona Department of Emergency Management and the city of Flagstaff.

Joe Ferguson can be reached at 556-2253 or jferguson@azdailysun.com.

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