Big Rapids officials break down upcoming pipe exploration project

BIG RAPIDS — The Big Rapids Department of Public Works organized a meeting for business owners and residents this week to answer questions about an upcoming project to survey water lines in the city to identify lead or galvanized pipes.

The meeting took place on Thursday May 5th and looked at the pros and cons of the project and how the city could approach it. The project focused primarily on the pre-1950 utility line area, primarily downtown, where lead gooseneck and galvanized utility lines were used.

Cody Wyman, a DPW Technical Engineer, chaired the meeting. He said the city wants to identify and address every possible pipe.

“What we have is all these galvanized lines around town that we don’t know about,” Wyman said. “We had to do a lot of digging in record books, records and maps to find out what we had. We designed 2588 water supply lines in Big Rapids and have begun evaluating at what point we will begin upgrading to ductile iron with copper distribution lines.

“I’m sure you’ve heard of Flint and Benton Harbor and things like that with their high levels,” he added. “So the state required us to find out what we have and come up with a plan to get rid of them by a certain date.”

The City of Big Rapids maintains over 60 miles of water distribution system, of which only a few segments remain from the first waterworks in 1871. Before the 1950s, lead tubing or gooseneck tubing was used to connect galvanized tubing to the distribution system. The city has worked since the 1960s to remove the lead plumbing from the system during system upgrades and to replace leaking galvanized water lines with Type K copper tubing.

Wyman provided some background on the progress of the exploration process during the meeting.

“We knew we had 1,037 to dream up and find,” Wyman said. “In the first year we were lucky with the water tax, we keep track and keep records of what we had in our systems. This year we replaced 47 and the second year we replaced 49. Last year we surveyed 60 sites and found that 16 of them needed replacing and we recorded those. So there were 181 left.”

Wyman explained that the city now knows there are 528 pipes that have little knowledge of their level of erosion or need for replacement.

The City is collaborating with Pipetek, USI, on exploration


Also present was Mike Hagan, a representative for Pipetek’s underground infrastructure services, who said the project will use modern technology to work with the concrete.

“We’re going to use a technology called hydro excavation,” Hagan said. “It’s a big vacuum with high pressure water on it, kind of like a pressure washer that we can use to break up the floor and vacuum up the dirt to really minimize the amount of space we’re taking out there. Essentially, our goal is to dig a hole about a foot in diameter straight down to the water supply and identify the materials from there.

“During this process we will be digging down the field to verify the material,” he added. “Take pictures of them so you have them for your records and then fill in the grass and then that small foot diameter area and restore it.”

The locations of the swan necks are not known, but the city estimates there are around 200. The total number of water utilities connected to the distribution system exceeds 2,400.

Wyman said they hope to work with regional companies to ensure the least disruption.

“We’re hoping to get some ideas as to what times aren’t the busiest,” Wyman said. “We will leave downtown for the end of the project. We’ll try to do our best to find a program and find out what works on the outskirts of town when we get downtown.”

The City is reviewing two options for further exploration and pipe replacement for downtown. One would be to remove concrete squares one at a time and hydro excavate or drill two holes in the concrete and then hydro dredge the material. According to Hagan, neither option avoids interference.

“It would be a question of what is comfortable,” Hagan said. “I know it’s never easy, but we want to know the least disruptive way to do business and everything else about this job. The (core) technology is already there and there is a supplier who has the equipment and everything I looked at.”

There were some concerns from attendees about the coring method, which would see the epoxy fill cracking due to frost, but Hagan said there shouldn’t be any major problems with breakage. Core drilling equipment is similar to equipment used in shaft drilling.

Going forward, exploration will continue and workers will move around the city to identify pipelines.

According to Hagan, some residents and business owners may see markings.

“We will be in touch with Cody to plan what we have planned,” Hagan said. “Before we can do anything legally at all, we still have to make a MISS DIG ticket. So they will go out and locate some utilities for us and there may be some markings on the lots. When you see these types of markings, it’s sort of a week-long announcement that we’ll be on the property in the next few days.”

MISS DIG is Michigan’s only utility safety notification system and allows companies to request safe marking of public utilities.

Most of the galvanized pipes will be scheduled for replacement in 2023.

For more information about the project, visit or call 231-592-4020.

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