While the City of Charleston, has about 118,000 citizens, the Charleston Water System distributes water to almost 400,000 customers in and around the city. Its greatest challenge is to maintain 1,400 miles of water mains through a diverse terrain that includes a sensitive downtown historic district, tidal flats, corrosive salt water marshes, a harbor, and the beds of Elliot Creek and the Ashley and Cooper Rivers. A program of extensive leak and corrosion detection and aggressive preventive maintenance initiatives helps the system meet those challenges. The department aggressively searches out leaks with a regular detection program and keeps sewer mains, hydrants and valves on a regular program of preventive maintenance. Trenchless technology helps crews repair lines in the city’s historic district with minimal disruption. The sewer main repair and testing regimen involves a combination of preemptive-leak detection and extensive analysis of the condition of mains. The distribution mains are largely made of cast or ductile iron lined with cement, ranging 2 to 48 inches. A few high-service mains coming from the city’s Hanahan Water Plant are as large as 54 inches.
Because Charleston is on the Atlantic Ocean, much of the distribution system runs through corrosive soils, especially salt marshes. The department has mapped potentially corrosive soils in high-profile areas and performs solid sampling electric potential surveys to find soils that have higher moisture content attributable to leaks. When potential leaks are discovered, a city engineer evaluates the data and prescribes remedies. The city’s historic district, where cobblestone streets and period architecture date back to the 18th century, also requires special attention. The downtown area carries the highest traffic densities and contains the oldest mains in the system.
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