Root cause of recent sewer line leaks dates back to 1950s

Pottstown to bill Reading for costs related to sewage leaks into water supply

Author: , follow: @69news, news@wfmz.com
Published: Sep 20 2011 10:13:41 AM EDT
READING, Pa. -

Here we go again. Reading officials have found two more leaks in a city sewer pipe that's already been patched twice in the past month.

"The first leak, that's a surprise.  We took care of it," said Carl Geffken, Reading's managing director.  "Two more happened, we started to understand, and that's when we delved deeper into the records."

According to Geffken, those records show that part of the 42 inch sewer main was moved in the 1950s to make way for the West Shore Bypass. When the piece of pipe was relocated, it lacked a tar coating that can be found on either side of the problem section.     

City workers are in the midst of inspecting the 600 foot area, including all 20 couplings. That's how they found the latest leaks.

"We have switched from being reactive to proactive," Geffken said.  "We cannot have this pipe continue to do this."

The 60-year-old pipe first ruptured in January 2008. Heavy rains from Hurricane Irene are blamed for another break in August.  Less than two weeks later, crews were called to repair a third leak.

Once the repair process resumes for the latest leaks, crews will again divert millions of gallons of sewage into the Schuylkill River. Geffken said that could happen as early as this week.

This time, neighbors dealing with the sewage issues downstream are planning to send something back: a bill. 

Pottstown Public Works officials told 69 News they are keeping tabs on manpower, chemicals and extra monitoring of the water quality around the borough. They plan to ask Reading for reimbursement.

"We will accept the bill," Geffken explained.  "We will review it, and we'll probably have some questions to go over it with them and determine its reasonableness and then we'll pay."

It will be added to the mounting bills Geffken's still calculating for the total cost of repairs. The city is in the process of applying for emergency federal aid.  Geffken said the costs can also be covered through a separate sewer fund.

"It comes from the rate payers and from the municipalities, the rate payers from within the city of Reading and the municipalities for whom we charge to transport and then treat their sewage," Geffken said.  "We have over $20 million in that account."

The city is planning to start a $15 million project to replace the aging sewer line.  Work on the affected section of pipe is still in the planning phase and is expected to start in the spring.