Big Rapids officials break down upcoming pipe exploration project


BIG RAPIDS — The Big Rapids Department of Public Works hosted a meeting this week for business owners and residents to answer any questions about an upcoming waterline exploration project in the city to identify lead or galvanized pipes.

The meeting was held on Thursday, May 5 and highlighted the pros and cons of the project and how the city can address them. The project would primarily focus on the area of ​​pre-1950 service lines, primarily downtown, where lead and galvanized gooseneck service lines were used.

Cody Wyman, a DPW engineering technician, led the meeting. He said the city wanted to identify and deal with all possible pipes.

“What we have is all these galvanized lines in town that we don’t know anything about,” Wyman said. “It took us a lot of digging through ledgers, registers and maps to figure out what we had. We found 2,588 water supply lines in Big Rapids, and we’ve started looking at when we’re starting to transition to ductile iron with copper distribution lines.

“I’m sure you’ve heard of Flint and Benton Harbor and things like that with their high levels,” he added. “That’s why the states kind of asked us to figure out what we had and come up with a plan to get rid of it by a certain date.”

The City of Big Rapids maintains a 60+ mile water distribution system, of which few segments remain from the original 1871 water works. Prior to the 1950s, lead pipes, or gooseneck pipes , were used to connect galvanized pipes to the distribution system. The city has worked to remove lead pipes from the system since the 1960s during system upgrades and replace leaking galvanized water service pipes with Type K copper tubing.

Wyman gave some insight during the meeting on how the exploration process has progressed.

“We knew we had 1,037 that we had to find and find,” Wyman said. “The first year we got lucky with the water tax, we keep track and keep records of what we had in our systems. That year we replaced 47, and the second year we replaced 49. Last year we explored 60 sites and found that 16 of them needed to be replaced, and we registered them. So there were 181 left.

Wyman explained that the city now knows there are 528 pipes of which little is known about the level of erosion or the need for replacement.

The city is working with Pipetek, USI, to explore


Also in attendance was Mike Hagan, a representative of Pipetek Underground Infrastructure Services, who said the project will use modern technology to work with concrete.

“What we’re going to do is use a technology called hydro-excavation,” Hagan said. “It’s a big vacuum truck with high pressure water on it, kind of like a pressure washer, where we can break up the floor and suck up that dirt to really minimize the footprint that we’re using there. Basically , our goal is to dig a hole about a foot in diameter down to the water service and identify the materials from there.

“Through this process, we will dig in the field to verify the material,” he added. “Take pictures of them so you have them for your records in the future, then fill in and restore the grass, then that little foot diameter area.”

The locations of the goosenecks are not known by record, but the city estimates there are about 200. The total number of water utilities connected to the distribution system exceeds 2,400.

Wyman said they hope to work with area businesses to ensure the least disruption.

“We’re hoping to get insights into when activities aren’t the busiest,” Wyman said. “We are going to leave the city center for the end of the project. We will try to do our best to find a schedule and what works on the outskirts of town when we get downtown.

The city is considering two options for further exploration and replacement of downtown pipes. One would involve removing the concrete squares individually and using hydro-excavation, or two, drilling holes in the concrete and then extracting the material. Either option doesn’t avoid disruption, according to Hagan.

“It would be a matter of what’s practical,” Hagan said. “I know it’s never practical, but we want to know how we can disrupt business and everything as little as possible by doing this work. The (coring) technology exists, and there is a supplier who owns the equipment and everything that I have studied.

Participants were concerned about the coring method with epoxy filler cracks due to freezing, but Hagan said there shouldn’t be any major breakage issues. Equipment for coring is similar to equipment used for manhole drilling.

Going forward, exploration will continue and workers will travel around the city to identify the piping.

According to Hagan, some residents and business owners may see markers.

“We will communicate with Cody to plan what we have planned to do,” Hagan said. “Before we can do anything by law, we still have to make a MISS DIG ticket. So they will go over there and find utilities for us, and there may be marks on the properties. When you see these kinds of marks, it’s kind of a week’s notice, we’re going to be on the property in the next few days.

MISS DIG is Michigan’s only utility safety notification system and allows businesses to request that utility lines be safely marked.

The majority of the galvanized pipes will be identified for replacement in 2023.

For more information about the project, visit or call 231-592-4020.

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