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Records show Charlotte is miles short of goal to replace aging pipes following massive water main break

WBTV Investigates: Water main break along Remount Road shut down businesses, cut off the water supply and forced a Boil Water Advisory for thousands of residents
Published: Oct. 25, 2021 at 5:04 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - After a disastrous water main break last week in Charlotte, a WBTV Investigation revealed the city is falling miles short of its goal to replace aging water infrastructure.

According to records obtained by WBTV, the city even lowered its goal to replace the old pipes but is still behind.

The massive water main break along Remount Road shut down businesses, cut off the water supply and forced a Boil Water Advisory for thousands of residents.

“Yesterday, it’s safe to say it’s at least three grand, probably more in sales.”

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During a news conference last week, Charlotte Water Director Angela Charles said it’s too early to say if the age of the water main was one of the causes of the break.

“When we put something in the ground, we say if it lasts 30 to 50 years, it’s doing well,” Charles said. “We’re not sure if age was the cause, but age can be a factor.”

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The pipe that failed more than 60 years old.

According to budget records, the city spends millions of dollars every year to rehabilitate or replace aging water pipes, but they’re still falling behind their own goals.

During the Fiscal Year 2017 budget, the City of Charlotte set an ambitious goal to fix just less than 80,000 feet of aging pipe, a little more than 15 miles, in both 2018 and 2019.

But the very next year, the city reported only completing 34,300 feet, about 6.5 miles.

The city also adjusted its 2019 target to just under 50,000 feet.

Even with their deflated targets, between 2018 and 2020 the city averaged fixing a little more than 40,000 feet of pipe per year.

The target during the same time was more than 61,000.

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WBTV Investigates reached out to Charlotte Water numerous times to request an interview with Director Angela Charles but the department refused to provide anyone on-camera.

In a statement, a Charlotte Water spokesperson wrote that the data from the city budgets only “related to our smaller diameter pipe water rehabilitation and replacement team” and “doesn’t include standalone large diameter pipe replacement projects, assessment projects, and other efforts.”

The numbers Charlotte Water provided for the large dianeter pipe replacements did not include targets.

Even without the target numbers, the amount of replaced/rehabilitated larger pipe has plummeted from a high of 50,000 feet in FY2018, to 7,300 feet in FY2019. In FY2020, 14,200 feet were completed and in FY2021, 23,500 feet.

“Our goal is to prioritize our projects and funds to meet customer needs, not just to accomplish a linear feet target. The ultimate goal of pipe rehab is to restore pipe integrity and maintain water quality to our customers,” a Charlotte Water spokesperson wrote.

WBTV caught up with Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles at a ribbon-cutting and asked her if the city should be working harder to replace aging pipes.

“I think that as long as we’re growing, we always need to look at our numbers,” Lyles said.

“We’re going to have 120 people a day moving here, they all need water and that’s why we continuously look at how much pipe we need and we will always do that.”

City records show there are 4,482 miles of water mains managed by the city and six percent of the pipe is 50 years old or older.

Even if just a small percentage of those have to be replaced, at its current rate, it would take the city several decades to complete.

WBTV was told the water main that broke last Monday was not part of a planned replacement project.

A Charlotte Water spokesperson said the pipe was last visually inspected in 2018 and does not have a history of recent repairs.

The city’s most recent budget tells a story of its own. The five-year spending plan for rehabilitating and replacing aging pipes jumped from $75 million to $94.5 million.

“This demonstrates and ongoing commitment to reinvest in the replacement of our system,” a Charlotte Water spokesperson wrote.

City of Charlotte aging water pipes findings:

  • According to budget documents, since 2018 Charlotte water has averaged rehab and replacement of 40,310 feet of small aging pipe per year. The average target over the same period was greater than 61,666 feet per year, including a target of 80,000 feet in 2018 when only 34,300 feet of aging pipe was treated.
  • Information provided by Charlotte Water shows the amount of large water pipe raplced annually since 2018 has dropped dramatically, from 50,000 feet in 2018 to an average of 15,000 feet between FY2019 and FY2021.
  • There are 4,482 miles of water mains the city manages. Roughly six percent are over 50 years of age, meaning about 269 miles.
  • The total five-year CIP spending plan for Major Water Line Rehabilitation and Replacement increased from $75 million in the FY21 budget to $94.5 million in the FY22 budget.
  • The water main along Remount Rd that broke was not part of any planned rehabilitation or replacement project and wast last visually inspected in 2018.

If you have a tip or complaint that you want WBTV to investigate, email our team at investigates@wbtv.com.

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