‘Water hammer’ events vex Basalt businesses
The town of Basalt’s insurance company paid more than $36,000 in claims by five businesses and one residential tenant that suffered damage in “water hammer” events last summer.
The town cannot guarantee the events won’t happen again, but its investigation concluded there are no operation or systemic issues, so it won’t pay any additional claims, according to Assistant Town Manager and Finance Director Judi Tippetts.
Three buildings with commercial uses on the ground floor and residences above suffered water damage June 30 when pressure surges in water lines triggered pressure-relief valves in their fire-sprinkler systems.
A second event occurred at 3 p.m. on Sept. 15 and a third at 2:30 a.m. the following day. Some of the businesses were affected in all three events when water didn’t drain quickly enough in utility closets and flooded other areas.
The biggest claim was to Swedish Paint for $14,536. Five additional claims ranged from $1,522 to $7,288, according to town records. The town’s insurer, Travelers, covered the claims, Tippetts said.
Tippetts said the town didn’t know at that time the claims were paid whether its system was responsible for the water-hammer events. However, she didn’t want the town to be responsible for shutting down any fire-sprinkler systems, so the town paid the damages and helped get the systems functional.
“We were just trying to be a good neighbor,” Tippetts said. “We actually had to fight with our insurance company to get that (September) one covered.”
Since then, the town’s engineering consultant has completed its investigation and four sprinkler companies were consulted. A memo to the town from engineering firm SGM said water-hammer events in a public water system are “common” and can be caused by a variety of reasons.
“Common operation of fire hydrants, water main line valves and well pumps can all cause water hammer,” the memo said. “It is often unpredictable, and as a result the town requires pressure reducing valves on every house in town to protect the residence from periodic water-hammer events.”
The memo continues to say, “At this time, the events that have occurred are believed to be normal operation and are expected to occur again in the future.”
As a result, the town will not pay future claims for water damage, Tippetts said. The town’s liability stops where the private water lines tap into the town’s water main lines, she said.
The town has offered to split the cost with the property owners to modify the sprinkler systems to prevent future water-hammer accidents. A sprinkler company estimated it would cost $8,000 to put pressure-reducing valves or arrestors on the systems. The town offered to cover half of the cost and, if needed, finance the remainder for the property owners on favorable terms for two years.
No businesses have accepted the offer, which also requires them to sign a waiver on future damages.
None of the businesses contacted returned messages to comment on this story. However, a resident of the area who also has experienced problems with her water lines said town officials need to take a closer look at their water infrastructure and take steps to avoid water hammers.
Tina Sagris lives in a duplex near the three commercial buildings that have experienced the water-pressure problems.
“It’s like (the water hammer) went tearing down Summerset Way to Fiou Lane,” she said.
Sagris has experienced rattling pipes, banging like there are rocks in her water tank and leaks that some plumbers believe are related to the pressure of the water entering her house. She is in the process of replacing her boiler. Although that’s a common household requirement, she believes the water pressure coming from the town system compromised the life of the boiler. The pressure valve installed on her house’s plumbing wasn’t enough to handle the surges from the town system, she said.
“I am retired and on Social Security. This is hard on me,” she said.
Once Sagris started looking into the issue, she became convinced it’s widespread enough in South Side and downtown Basalt that it can only be a systemic issue — one that the town should try harder to address.
“Everywhere I go, I hear about it,” she said.
Basalt Public Works Manager Boyd Bierbaum said he is familiar with Sagris’ water issues. He doesn’t believe the town’s water system is to blame because there haven’t been any other complaints by residential users. The town is urging all customers to make sure they have adequate pressure-relief values on their plumbing.
Bierbaum said an issue with a new, 1 million-gallon water tank installed above Basalt High School is unrelated to the water-hammer issue. The tank was emptied about a year ago after it was settling more than anticipated. The town aims to stabilize the foundation before refilling it and bringing it back on line. The tank was needed for anticipated growth, not to meet current demand, Bierbaum said.
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