Crews repairing 48-inch main break at former Colonial Club golf course
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - A water leak that has continued to get worse for nearly eight years is finally being repaired.
Crews were mobilized Monday to fix a 48-inch main break at the former Colonial Country Club golf course in northeast Jackson.
The break has been going on for years and is currently causing the city to lose between 5 million and 6 million gallons of treated water each day.
Contractors had cut down numerous trees along Colonial Circle to make their way to the break and were installing a makeshift wooden road on Friday to allow heavy equipment access to the site.
Some city leaders knew of the rupture back in 2015, the year after the Colonial Club shut its doors, according to a former public works employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
“We just didn’t have the funds to get it addressed,” that employee said. “It’s kind of one of those things that if you had the resources available, you were able to take care of it, but if not, you just kind of had to manage it and then, you know, hope for some resources.”
Auditors recently told the council Jackson had a roughly $17.6 million shortfall in water/sewer collections for fiscal year 2021, the last year audit figures were available. Meanwhile, shortfalls of $12.6 million and $17.1 million were reported in fiscal years 2020 and 2019 respectively.
The leak, which was initially believed to be the result of a faulty air release valve, grew over the years into a gusher that as of early this week was releasing as much as 6 million gallons of treated water a day onto the former golf course grounds.
Council President Ashby Foote learned about the leak at a council committee meeting Wednesday. He met WLBT at the construction site.
“We’ve known that there were a lot of water leaks we weren’t specifically aware of. We just knew the system was leaking water,” he said. “But trying to identify where those leaks were happening [was] a challenge.”
Water main leaks have been a problem in the city for years. A 2013 report from Neel-Schaffer determined more than a quarter of all the water produced by the city’s treatment plants went unaccounted for once it entered the distribution system.
More recent estimates put those losses at around 50 percent - a factor that places additional stress on the city’s already struggling water treatment plants.
Foote said had the council known about the severity of this break, members would have found the funds to fix it. “I don’t know what the history of this particular situation is, but the good news is we’re on the case now, repairing it,” he said. “And that will be more water that goes to the citizens and less water that leaks out.”
Interim Third-Party Manager Ted Henifin says he learned about the problem about two weeks ago. Construction had already gotten underway when he spoke to the council on Wednesday.
Henifin took over the city’s water system as part of a federal court order handed down in November. He is responsible for overseeing operations and maintenance of the city’s system, including making emergency repairs.
“It looks like a Coors Light commercial in the Rockies, where you see this waterfall coming down,” he told members. “That’s all drinking water coming out of a 48-inch line that comes from Curtis and serves the rest of Jackson.”
Curtis is the O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plant. The 5 million to 6 million gallons of water lost at the Colonial site accounts for about a fifth of the 32 million gallons of water a day produced there.
The plant has been the epicenter of multiple water crises in recent years. Each time the plant experienced a shut down, crews struggled to restore pressure in the distribution system.
It’s unclear how much the Colonial break contributed to the city’s past recovery efforts.
“Whether it was leaking five million gallons three years ago or five years ago, I don’t know,” Foote said. “All I know is they told me that right now it is leaking like five million gallons a day.”
Former city officials are having a hard time pinpointing exactly when the leak got bad. One official who asked to be anonymous says it was about three years ago.
Former Public Works Director Robert Miller said the leak was far from severe under his watch.
“I was aware of a relatively minor leak at that location at that time, but nothing of the volume that was described in the newspaper article,” he said, referring to a Thursday report in the New York Times.
Miller was appointed by Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba in 2017 but left the city in 2020. “If had been aware of a significant leak, it would have been repaired promptly.”
The Colonial Country Club closed in 2014. A portion of the former club’s property was redeveloped as the Tapestry Northridge apartment complex. Additional portions of the site remained untouched, including much of the golf course.
The Colonial project is expected to cost around $1 million and include installing several hundred feet of new water line. It was not known how long work would take. Henifin says if the project progresses as expected no customers in the area will be without water.
We reached out to the city to find out more details about the break. Jackson Director of Communications Melissa Faith Payne referred all questions to Henifin.
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