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LOCKPORT – The city is preparing to shut down its water supply line from the Niagara River for three to five days in order to probe whether the pipe is in good enough condition to carry treated drinking water from North Tonawanda.

If the answer is yes, Mayor Michael W. Tucker said, Lockport will consider buying drinking water from North Tonawanda and shutting down its own treatment plant.

That was envisioned under terms of a $444,000 shared services grant obtained from the state several years ago.

It was a grant involving all three cities in Niagara County, but a feasibility study determined it would be too difficult to pump water from elsewhere in the county to Niagara Falls, so that city is no longer part of the water sharing plan.

Lockport and North Tonawanda each appropriated $24,445 last year to pay for the testing of the pipeline. However, the inspection is being delayed because a valve at the Lockport plant, needed to bring replacement water from the Niagara County Water District during the inspection, is broken, according to Norman D. Allen, Lockport director of engineering and public works.

It’s not known how long it will take to repair or replace it, but once that task is completed, the inspection of the interior of the 13-mile supply line from North Tonawanda can begin.

The critical area is the three miles closest to Lockport, since the other 10 miles were replaced in the 1990s.

The Niagara County Health Department will make the decision on whether the 36-inch pipeline can handle treated water.

“It hasn’t been replaced, and there’s some concern about condition,” said James J. Devald, county environmental health director.

Tucker said, “This will probably be the deciding factor ... It’s so old, who knows if the dirt is holding this line together?”

“There are special precautions being taken,” Allen said.

Tucker said Conestoga-Rovers and Associates, the consulting firm on the project, will have a crew ready to make emergency repairs if the pipeline were to cave in.

The pipeline will be treated with kid gloves. “They’ll move a lot of this dirt by hand,” Tucker said.

Allen said the inspection will utilize “a mini-submarine in the newer section” to take photos, and what Allen called “ultrasonic wall thickness measurements” on the pipeline.

If the pipeline, which currently draws water from the river at an intake near the end of Wheatfield Street in North Tonawanda, passes the test, Lockport may buy the its city’s water.

“We’re committed to the process,” Tucker said. “At the end of the day, we have to make an economic decision.”

Last year, there was some Common Council sentiment to buy water from the county instead of from North Tonawanda.

The county actually has had to buy water from Lockport in some recent summers, Water District Director Herbert A. Downs said.

“We’ve had a long-standing agreement. We haven’t used it in the last couple of years,” Downs said.

The county charges towns 75 cents for 1,000 gallons of water.

email: tprohaska@buffnews.com