If you've noticed a lot of work going on lately in Cincinnati on fire hydrants, there's no cause for concern.
Greater Cincinnati Water Works (GCWW) and the Cincinnati Fire Department are doing flow testing on city hydrants. Approximately 2,400 hydrants are scheduled for testing in August and September with the rest of the city's 14,000 hydrants scheduled for later this fall and into 2021.
"We're conducting flow testing on all fire hydrants within the city basically to get a baseline of condition assessment data on our hydrants and our water system," says Verna Arnette, deputy director of GCWW. "That's going to help us at the water works prioritize our water main replacement program. That's going to give us some really valuable information. For the fire department, it's going to give them information so they can look at creating plans for fire fighting purposes and other operational needs."
The testing was prompted by a house fire in Nov. 2019 in North Avondale where firefighting efforts were hampered by low flow from hydrants on the street. Fire and Water Works officials said a six-inch water main on the street was not able to provide the water pressure needed to fight the fire. There are similar six-inch water mains located throughout the city that could cause similar problems.
As WVXU's Jay Hanselman reported in December, the fire department would prefer to have the average flow from a hydrant be about 1,000 gallons per minute. However, that's not possible in all locations and if the department knows that in advance, it can have a backup plan. Cincinnati Fire Fighters Union Local 48 said the issue has been known about since at least 2012.
Arnette says hydrants have been tested on an as-needed basis but this is the first time a comprehensive review is being done.
Individual tests don't take very long, however, they can't be conducted once the weather turns colder in order to prevent icing on the roadways. Two contracting crews are performing the work currently and can test roughly 300 hydrants per week, according to Arnette. Once they're finished, the Cincinnati Fire Department will take over the testing.
The fire department routinely checks that hydrants are in proper working order. "This is different in the sense that they're going to be putting equipment on the hydrant that will measure flow and the pressure drops. There may be a much bigger flow stream coming from the hydrant than what the fire department would do when they routinely check each of their hydrants," says Arnette.
Door hangers are left at homes and businesses to alert you when your nearest hydrants will be tested.
Water Works will flush the water after a hydrant is tested, however, it is possible you might notice your tap water is discolored - in this case reddish and likely from rust and other materials dislodged from the cast iron water mains - after a high-volume flush. While rust isn't a health concern, according to GCWW, it could counteract the chlorine disinfectant in the water.
"Usually it's not an issue, but sometimes when there's sudden increases in flow rates or changes in flow directions some of this rust can get stirred up," says Jeff Swertfeger, superintendent the Water Quality Division at Greater Cincinnati Water Works. "We're doing what we can by doing these tests in ways that minimize that and we're also doing some flushings in the area to make sure that the rusty water doesn't get to the consumers."
Swertfeger says it's unlikely you'll see a problem but it is possible. If you notice discolored water, GCWW recommends running the tap for a few minutes until the water runs clear. If water remains discolored for more than a few hours, you should contact GCWW customer service at 513-591-7700, and not use it for cooking, drinking or laundry until it clears up.
Though GCWW is conducting the testing jointly with the Cincinnati Fire Department, Arenette points out hydrants are owned by their individual municipalities and their maintenance is the responsibility of the individual community. Cincinnati Council budgeted for the citywide testing, she says.