HOUSTON – The play a major role in city services, but most residents never see them or give them a second thought.
Houston has embarked on a downtown water improvement project that will see new water valves and selected water mains replaced.
“Those pipes are incredibly old in some places and we have tired for years to figure out where valves are downtown,” said Ricko Nichols, Manager of the Houston Street Department. “This work has needed to be done for a long time and a grant we got last year has given us the money to make it happen.”
Contractors set up on the Houston Courthouse lawn two weeks ago and drilled to a pipe on Washington Street at its intersection with North Jackson Street. A leaking valve prompted workers to dig up the pipe.
Bright orange traffic safety cones were set out and a square mesh barrier was erected to keep cars and people out of the six-foot-deep hole.
Workers dug a second hole further west on Washington Street Monday night and have also erected safety barriers there.
The city has also dug up several valves closer to the surface around the downtown area.
“We tried to shut the water off so they could work Monday night and we found out quick we just don’t have that capability,” said Nichols. “We have had fire hydrants downtown that have leaked for years because we can’t replace them because we can’t turn the water off long enough to fix them.”
City leaders have repeatedly teased Nichols that he has a good day when he discovers a new water valve on Houston’s water system.
“We found nine the other day,” Nichols said with a smile. “We are mapping each one and making sure we know what they do and how to find them again.”
Mayor Parker said the city has tried to alert citizens that the public works department is undertaking this project and may be going house to house to check water when a line is turned off. After a line is turned off, city workers will also need to confirm that the water to each house is also stopped.
“If someone is home, they’ll knock on the door and let them know what they’re doing,” Parker said.
But in the even that the home owner is absent, if city workers see an outside faucet, they may enter the yard to confirm that the home is on the line that has been stopped by checking to see if water is not available from the faucet.
The city has also been in contact with the Mississippi Highway Department about stopping a leak on the hill on Highway 8 in front of Houston Carnegie Library.
“The highway department is picky about working on their right of way and even pickier about digging up their highway,” said Nichols. “We’ve done some initial work in that area trying to get ready. When the state gets ready, we’ll be ready.”
Nichols said while working on water mains and sewer lines is not as glamorous as paving streets or building ballfields, it is a city service critical to both businesses and residents.
“I want to thank downtown businesses for being patient with us,” said Nichols. “We may even have to shut the water off in some spots before we get this all finished. We’ve even worked at night to try to accommodate downtown businesses and not inconvenience them.”