Ed Mullinax, assistant director of the water department, said recent projects were part of a "continuing project" to replace the older water mains and sewer lines in the city, which are getting near the end of their service life. A recent example was the 100-year-old sewer under Erwin Street that had collapsed and was leaking sewage into the ground. Part of that sewer line ran underneath the Legion Theatre, which put the theatre at risk of being flooded with sewage if the line ever backed up.
When the water department started digging up the sewer line they discovered another problem -- none of the water mains or sewer lines were where they were supposed to be.
In its early days, Cartersville grew very quickly. New sewer lines and water mains were put into the ground without any forethought as to how they would be maintained. Records detailing their locations were lost, or never existed in the first place, meaning the water department sometimes has difficulty knowing what, exactly, is under the ground when they start digging. Things can become even more difficult when city workers discover old shortcuts.
"Even as late as the '50s, '60s and '70s shortcuts were taken," Mullinax said.
Those shortcuts included using different sized pipes to piece together a water main or running two or three mains under one street.
"Some houses can be on three different lines," Mullinax said. "Nowadays the city kills the old lines and transfers everyone to new lines. We're looking on down the road."
The water mains and sewer lines on Tennessee Street and Etowah Drive are right underneath the pavement and run straight down the middle of the street or under turning lanes. Fixing them is difficult, as city crews are forced to cut the pavement apart and cause major traffic interruptions. As a result, there are a number of fire hydrants along Tennessee Street that do not work since they could not be maintenanced.
Mullinax said that is why replacing all these water mains and sewer lines is so important -- they are failing and creating potential dangers.
"A lot of people don't realize how far into the failure stage they are," Mullinax said about the lines. "What nobody sees is the valves on these lines. ... The valves don't work when they get that old. It's able to deliver [water] but, as a working system, it's not a good system. It puts the city in a real position of jeopardy."
City Manager Sam Grove said the city worked with the Georgia Department of Transportation to delay the planned resurfacing of Tennessee Street until after the water and sewer work is completed.
"It makes sense to do it now," he said. "We don't want to cut new pavement and make it rough. Hopefully it will give the driving public a smoother ride for a longer time."
The city is also being proactive in terms of maintenance and repair. Any new mains or lines must conform to Cartersville's strict standards, which include the use of lined ductile iron pipe for water mains. It will not corrode, which eliminates the possibility of red water coming out of consumers' faucets. Developers must also locate new mains and lines under sidewalks or in easements to make maintenance and repair easier.
Mullinax noted the support he's received from the city's government and asked for the public for patience with these major projects.
"We depend on public support for these projects," he said.
A large bond was recently passed to finance the Tennessee Street project. A request for proposals from engineers will be released next week, and once an engineer and plan is selected, the permitting process can begin. December 2013 is the project's planned completion date, while a timeline for the Etowah Drive project is not yet available.