News

Water main break a sign of old infrastructure

Lacking funds, Hollister’s public works department operates in “fix-it-as-it-breaks” mode rather than providing preemptive maintenance.
Hollister has had 39 water main breaks since 2017. Photo by John Chadwell.
Hollister has had 39 water main breaks since 2017. Photo by John Chadwell.

Henry Gonzalez, Hollister’s interim public works director, has worked for the city for 23 years. He’s seen a lot of changes over that time, but there’s always room for more as an aging and crumbling infrastructure—primarily city streets and water pipes—continue to disrupt residents’ lives.

A water main break in late April near the corner of Fourth and Locust streets was the latest in a long string of incidents attributed to nearly 100-year-old cast iron pipes. Gonzalez said a 12-inch water main runs beneath Fourth Street, from San Benito Street across a fault line, all the way to the bridge crossing the San Benito River.

“The pipe cracked and more than likely what caused it was some type of earth movement,” he said. “That area has been repaired several times and the majority of the pipes are now C900 (PVC pressure pipe). Three years ago, we did two blocks of infrastructure, replacing storm and sewer pipes, repaving the road, and new curbs and gutters around Fourth and Mapleton Avenue. In that section we probably have between 80 and 125 feet of cast iron remaining.”

He said water was restored to about 25 homes the same day.

“Whenever we have a break, we stay on the job until we get the water turned back on,” he said, adding that the water damaged the road but did not cause any damage under nearby homes.

Gonzales said whenever there is a break in the cast iron, PVC is used to fill the section where the break is located. He said 90% of city streets have either stormwater, wastewater, or water pipes beneath them.

He told BenitoLink there are 124.9 miles of roads in the city. Broken down by type, there are 110 miles of sewer pipes, 110 miles of water pipes, and 67 miles of stormwater pipes. It’s unknown how much cast iron pipe is still in place.

Between 2017 and 2020 there were 39 water main breaks throughout the city, he said.

As of 2017, when the road conditions were last assessed, 65% of them were in need of heavy maintenance, which includes chip seals, slurry seals and overlays. Thirteen percent are in need of heavy rehabilitation, which includes overlays greater than two inches, pulverizing and resurfacing, and full-depth reclamation. Six percent are in need of light rehabilitation of overlays less than two inches, and thin mills and fills. Seventeen percent are in need of complete reconstruction that includes demolition and rebuilding the entire road section.

BenitoLink reported on March 3 that according to the 2018 statewide local streets and roads assessment, San Benito County has the worst roads in the state with a Pavement Condition Index of 37 out of 100. The statewide average for local roads is 65.

Gonzalez said there is no current assessment of the overall condition of pipes. The city only knows the flow capacity.

The department’s annual budget is only for emergency repair work. Its 2021 budget includes $87,500 for streets, $250,000 for water pipes, $65,000 for sewers, $635,539 for the wastewater treatment facility, and $6,000 for stormwater pipes.

The last five-year capital improvement projects program was submitted by former city manager Bill Avera to the Hollister City Council in 2017 to cover fiscal years 2017-18 and 2021-22.

“There is a written plan, but we have not moved forward with it because the associated cost is extremely high,” Gonzalez said. “Once you start trenching, the cost, I’d guess, is $150 a linear foot.” 

One project that is in the plan and did get paid for was the Fourth and Line streets work, at a projected cost in 2017 of $1.75 million.

Within the General Plan there are 10 Special Revenue Funds that were established to pay for road and pipe maintenance. (The proposed projects and amounts for each are included in the PDF link above.)

  • Fund 303: Storm drain impact fees levied against new developments in the city for improvements and construction of storm drains.
  • Fund 304: Traffic impact fees levied against all new developments in the city to pay for traffic construction and improvements.
  • Fund 305: AB 1600 Santa Ana storm drain fund levied against new developments along Santa Ana Road for construction and improvements as a result of city growth.
  • Fund 311: Proposition 18 Highway Safety Fund receives revenues from the state under Prop. 1B in 2006 to be spent on streets.
  • Fund 662: Storm drain fees fund established to account for revenues and expenditures related to storm drain construction.
  • Fund 620: Water Enterprise Fund pays for water services to residents in the city and some in the county.
  • Fund 621: Water Expansion Enterprise Fund pays for the expansion of water services in the city and some of the county.
  • Fund 660: Sewer Enterprise Fund finances sewer services for city residents and some in the county.
  • Fund 661: Sewer Expansion Enterprise Fund pays for expansion of sewer services to city residents and some in the county.
  • Fund 665: San Benito Foods Fund established an account for revenues and expenses relating to industrial wastewater treatment facilities related to the cannery.

Hollister is expected to have more funding to maintain its local roads through Measure G, which was approved by county voters Nov. 6 2018. 

As of last March $14.5 million has flowed into the county over two years from Measure G, a 1% sales tax spread out over 30 years that would result in $16 million annually for a total of $485 million for road improvements. Hollister and San Benito County will receive an average of $2.6 million annually through 2024 for local roads. San Juan Bautista is expected to receive an average of $282,000 in the same period.

 

BenitoLink is a nonprofit news website that reports on San Benito County. Our team is working around the clock during this time when accurate information is essential. It is expensive to produce local news and community support is what keeps the news flowing. Please consider supporting BenitoLink, San Benito County’s news.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a BenitoLink reporter and an author. He has many years experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime that are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]