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A number of leaks in Cotulla’s municipal gas utility system have been discovered during the course of a routine annual inspection, and two are of sufficient size that they require prompt attention, according to Engineer David Wright.
City councilors learned at their March meeting that the annual inspection was detailed enough to pinpoint even the smallest leaks in the city-owned gas system, parts of which have suffered under pavement that has carried heavy traffic.
Wright described the discoveries as including two leaks categorized as Grade 1, which the state of Texas requires to be repaired immediately.
One of those leaks, Wright said, is at Thornton and Hickey streets but may not have been detected by any other than the “sniffer device” used in the annual inspection.
The second Grade 1 leak, he said, is at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Cotulla Unit detention center on the east side of the city near FM 624.
“These leaks are of a size that makes them critical, but they still are small enough that the average bypasser would not have noticed them,” the engineer said. “They may not even have been detected by smell; that’s how small they actually are.”
Wright said this week that the city acts quickly in repairing leaks to the system.
Other leaks detected in the survey included those listed as Grade 2 and Grade 3, which are mandated for repairs within six months and a year, respectively.
Wright said on Tuesday this week that he believes the city must act as quickly to repair Grade 2 and 3 leaks as it does in response to a Grade 1 leak because, “If you put something off today, you’ll have twice as much trouble tomorrow.”
The city has not indicated that the leaks constitute a health hazard to any residents in their vicinity.
“These lower-grade leaks can be minuscule,” Wright said. “They have to be repaired, but we are finding that they could be simply from an older or damaged fitting. All of these parts can be replaced.”
Where the city may have difficulty in addressing gas leaks is under street paving or other structures.
Citywide improvements over the past decade have followed a long-term plan to move vital utility lines away from heavy traffic areas, including under street pavement. In many recent projects, the city has redirected entire utility conduits to the edges of residential streets and replaced meters and other connections.
“We are finding that some of the older equipment still in place at certain locations in the city is wearing out, may have been bumped or dislodged by accident, or has become loose,” the engineer said. “The inspection has been greatly helpful in identifying the places that need immediate attention.”
City crews are currently undergoing training endorsed by the Texas Railroad Commission to examine and service gas utility lines. Field qualification is awarded to those who complete the training course; the city is expecting to maintain its qualifications in order to keep its certificates and develop a cross-trained cadre of employees in order to respond to a wider range of utility system needs.
“This will be a big help for us,” Wright told the council at the meeting in March. “When we have field-qualified people, they can train others.”