Buried Problems: Aging Water and Sewer Lines Threaten Big Proble - WSPA.com

Buried Problems: Aging Water and Sewer Lines Threaten Big Problems and Bigger Bills

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The lines that bring water to and from your home can be at least a century old and the time has come to replace them. The lines that bring water to and from your home can be at least a century old and the time has come to replace them.

They’re invisible but not invincible. Aging water pipes and sewer lines, many more than a century old, threaten taxpayers with crumbling roads, increased fire danger, and rate increases as high as 40 to 50 percent.

On Major Street in Pendleton, Nelson Passwater says the aging sewer line, installed by a now abandoned mill near his home, spews waste into his yard after ever big rain.

“It overflows.  They come out and do a little work and correct it but the ground is wet.  You can see it,” Passwater said.

Water main breaks in other cities have shut down major intersections and cost millions in repairs.

In the Spartanburg Water system, there are 150 miles of pipes buried before 1930.  Some are as old as the city itself.  Another 200 miles of galvanized pipe needs to be replaced in the next few decades.

“Hospitals, schools, any type of emergency response, you want to make sure they have water,” said Spartanburg Water CEO Sue Schneider.  “They’re in a ‘can’t fail’ situation.”


In Spartanburg, fire hydrants are color-coded.  The ones with the light blue top have the most water flow.  Red tops have the least.


Light Blue                         1,500 gallons per minute or more

Green                               1,000 to 1,499 gallons per minute

Orange                             500 to 999 gallons per minute

Red                                  Fewer than 500 gallons per minute

Firefighters like Westwood-Fairforest Chief Scott Garrett said they depend on those hydrant colors for accurate information when planning their approach to an emergency.

“That’s the only thing we have to go on is the color,” Garrett said.

7 On Your Side has learned that some of those colors could be misleading because of the aging water pipes that service them.

“We are beginning to see areas in our services where the flow is restricted and it is affecting fire flow,” Schneider said.

Some lines are already being replaced after flow testing revealed problems with fire flow.  7 On Your Side watched as one line in downtown Spartanburg, connected to a light blue hydrant, was excavated and replaced after testing proved the line didn’t meet fire sdidn'tards.

Firefighters devise detailed plans for a fire at any structure.  Those plans include the pressure they expect from each nearby hydrant.

Their calculations mean that hydrants that don’t deliver the promised pressure leave homeowners at risk.


In the summer of 2012 the ground gave way on Pleasantburg Drive in Greenville near the busy intersection with I-385.  A ruptured 12-inch water main created a massive crater, shutting down traffic and creating huge repair bills not only for the broken pipe but for the road as well.

At the time, Greenville’s water  system said they were replacing older lines at a rate of about 1% every year.  That cost about $5 million per year.

“We know (ruptured pipelines are) going to happen, there’s no way of predicting when and where it’s going to happen,” said Murray Doff with the Greenville Water System.

Days later, in downtown Spartanburg, an aging pipe on Union Street split.  The replacement shut roads and cost you big.

“Stuff like this creeps up,” said Schneider.

“We know what lines are susceptible for breaking.  I think in a lot of communities it’s worse than people think.”


More certain than fire risk, more expensive than occasional repairs, more frustrating than disrupted service and traffic delays there is another issue associated with aging underground infrastructure that will impact nearly every Upstate customer.

Most customers will pay bigger bills.

At least one company operating water and sewer systems in South Carolina, Utilities Inc., is already asking for major hikes in the rates customers pay.

According to documents filed with the public service commission, the company wants double digit hikes in water and sewer rates.

Thousands of customers in Anderson will see hikes as high as 40% on their water services and 50% in sewer hikes.

Other providers, who haven’t yet said how they will increase rates are warning the increased cost is inevitable.  Schneider said Spartanburg Water would increase rates in coming years to pay for a 30 year $245 million dollar replacement project.

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