Louisville Water Company was built on the principles of STEM – science, technology, engineering and math. In 1860, our forefathers designed a system to pump water out of the river and up a hill to a reservoir using a steam pump and gravity fed systems. Today, our engineers use some of the same techniques to keep the water flowing around the city and to our customers. STEM skills are also used to maintain and upgrade our distribution system of pipes, like removing lead service lines from our system.
Louisville Water is on the fast track to eliminate the estimated remaining 4,000 lead service lines in the distribution system by 2020. Engineers Jamie Long and Denise Hettinger are directing those projects.
In 2002, Louisville Water created projects to replace lead service lines in blocks. Previously lead services were replaced individually or with water main replacement projects.
“In recent years, we were replacing about 1,000 lines a year, but this year we are replacing about 2,000 lines,” said Long. “We have our crews working, plus we have many outside contractors working for us to get the job done. With the Flint crisis, there is increased national attention to lead. We have worked to provide several avenues to provide lead information to our customers.”
Both Long and Hettinger are members of the MRRP Engineering Department, which stands for Main Replacement and Rehabilitation Program. Hettinger has been with Louisville Water for more than 23 years, while Long has been here just over 16 years.
While both Hettinger and Long work on main replacement projects and main relocation plans, the bulk of their work is with lead service line replacements. Most lead service lines are inside the Watterson Expressway, said Hettinger.
“We start with the information in our GIS mapping system to identify lead service lines,” said Long. “Our inspectors will then go out to the area, pop the lid and actually see if the line is copper or lead. They will also check other services in the area to ensure no line gets missed. They send that information back to us and we create the project from that information. We also have a set of guidelines that we follow in creating projects that includes the date of installation.
We know that lead was used by the company at one time. Date does matter. We are very cautious, and want to make sure we take care of everything.”
Not only is the engineering department replacing Louisville Water’s lead service lines, but are also assisting those who might have lead service lines on their property, through a new pilot program.
“If you have a lead service line on your property that you want replaced, Louisville Water will work with you to manage the replacement, and through a new pilot program, pay for up to $1,000 in costs associated with it,” said Long, who has a civil engineering degree from the University of Louisville. “And if you meet certain requirements, the Louisville Water Foundation can help pay the customer’s remaining portion of the line replacement too.”
With main replacements, the Infrastructure Planning group reviews water mains that have had high break frequencies, set projects up based on that frequency and sends them over to the MRRP department.
“We then look at them, go out in the field, figure out the best method and location to install a new water main, and manage that project throughout,” explained Hettinger, who has a degree in civil engineering from the University of Kentucky. “We also handle any customer issues on the project.”
They also do main relocation projects, which is when the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet, Metro Louisville, or a developer needs to make a change, such as widening a road.
“In those cases, we need to relocate the facilities, and we work with those agencies and customers to redesign the location,” said Long.
Hettinger and Long say they try to be sensitive to customers’ needs by carefully planning replacements and relocations of mains and lead service line replacements. They try not to overwhelm certain areas of town because they understand the disruption that their work might cause.
National STEM Day is November 8, and both Long and Hettinger said they chose their engineering paths in part because of the influence of their fathers’ careers and to make an impact on the community.
“I love math and science, and I prefer the utility field because my dad worked for the electric company for 30 years,” said Long. “I like to design, build something and see it — seeing what I did makes you feel that you made a difference. Engineering school is not easy, but it’s well worth it.”
“It’s a field in which you can make a difference,” said Hettinger, whose father was the Director of Public Works and County Engineer for Jefferson County. “For me it’s helping supply a needed commodity to everyone — you need water for life. Engineers have an impact on public health and that is evident with our lead service line replacement program. Engineering can be a way to give back to the community.”