Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Good & Bad of This Week’s Water Outage

By Stephen Vance, Editor

While inconvenient, this week’s brief interruption in water service due to a break in a water main junction fitting served to remind us all of two things – one good, and one not so good.

First, what was clearly demonstrated this week is that the Municipality of Meaford and its staff can respond admirably in the face of an emergency.

Water mains sometimes break, we all know that. Sometimes a quick fix is in order, and water users barely, if at all notice a change in their service. Other times, like this week, the problem is more serious, and water service is interrupted.

Fortunately, while water service was indeed interrupted on Monday morning, the loss of water flowing from our taps lasted only a matter of hours, and while nobody is thrilled to have to boil water for a few days, in the grand scheme of things, the whole ordeal amounted to little more than a minor inconvenience for most.

What was more impressive than the speed with which the municipality repaired the water-main was the communication from the municipality about the issue.

The first of a total of eight email messages from Meaford’s Director of Planning and Building arrived in my in box at 6:03 on Monday morning – a mere hour from the time that the rupture was noticed.

That early notification from the municipality allowed media outlets like The Meaford Independent to get the word out to residents, who were about to prepare for another work-week, and no doubt wondering why their taps were dry.

An update followed at 7:14, and at 9:58, not only had another update arrived, but the municipality had already established a water distribution centre at the arena for residents in need of clean, potable water.

Three more update email messages were sent to the media on Monday, the last of which arrived at 9:11 pm. Mr. Armstrong certainly had a long day. On Tuesday two more media releases were issued by the municipality to keep the media, and the public updated on the progress of the repair.

The response and the communication from the municipality would be seen as stellar by most anyone’s standards.

That is the good news, and now for the not so good news.

Situations like what was experienced at the beginning of this week are likely to become more and more common. Not just in Meaford, but across North America as our large and complex infrastructure slowly begins to crumble.

As a society, we have created a very expensive, and high-maintenance place to live. That in and of itself isn’t so much a problem as is the fact that the bulk of our infrastructure – like the 1950’s era junction fitting that failed in Meaford this week – was built decades ago, and it would seem that most municipalities haven’t done a very good job of keeping on top of the upkeep.

In August of last year the municipality replaced a water main on Sykes Street that was originally installed nearly 120 years ago in 1894. How many similar pieces of our precious infrastructure, of similar age, across North America need replacement? We can hope not many, but then you know what they say about hope – hope for the best but plan for the worst. And it does get worse.

Two years ago we reported that Meaford’s staff had identified some $20 million in bridge repair and replacement needs over the next 10 years. For a cash strapped municipality like Meaford, $20 million is an awful lot of cash, and failing miracle grants from upper levels of government, it will not be fun to watch how those funds are found.

The water delivery system and bridges aside, Meaford will also have to deal with the harbour. Meaford’s inner harbour continues to fill with silt and sediment each year, and dredging while expensive enough itself, is in reality nothing more than a bandage on a much larger wound. One of the teenagers in our house attended the sailing school at the harbour earlier this month, and he told me that those little sail boats were constantly scraping along the silt beneath, and once he even found himself completely stuck. Serious dollars will need to be directed to the harbour in the years to come.

Meaford and its staff responded admirably this week, but barring some miracle, we should become accustomed to more of the same, and a hefty bill in years to come.

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