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Getting the Lead Out! Triple E Water & Sewer Going Trenchless in St. Paul

Triple E Water and Sewer is utilizing pit launched HDD technology to replace lead water service lines in St. Paul, MN.

While there are many issues facing the integrity of potable water, lead infrastructure continues to be a problem for water systems in many parts of the country, including the Midwest. Triple E Water and Sewer, LLC of Crystal, MN is putting its skill and capability toward replacing lead service lines in Minnesota’s capital city, St. Paul. While known for old, distinct and unique neighborhoods, St. Paul poses a particular challenge to contractors looking update utilities.

Eric Erickson, Triple E founder and president said their background made them a good for the St. Paul job. He said, “Our minimally invasive approach saves retaining walls and landscaping which makes the homeowners happy because they don’t have to deal with clean up or restoration. We’re very proud to be working with St. Paul Regional Water on replacing old, unsafe lead water lines for residential customers on multiple projects across the city. This is an important program that will help provide clean, safe drinking water for more than 20,000 homes.”

Triple E has been installing and replacing water services in the Twin Cities for years with trenchless piercing tools. For the lead replacement project with St. Paul Regional Water Services, the company wanted to increase production, in the less than ideal ground conditions of the St. Paul area. For the project, a Grundopit pit-launched mini-directional drill from trenchless equipment manufacturer TT Technologies, Aurora, ll.

TT Technologies Trenchless Specialist Mark Dorn said the drill is a good choice for the project. He said, “The unit is really compact at just 54 inches long, 43 inches wide and 57 inches tall. But at the same time it provides significant thrust and pulling force with typical bore lengths up to 150 feet and it’s completely directional.”

The Grundopit pit launch directional drill from trenchless equipment manufacturer TT Technologies is just 54 inches long, 43 inches wide and 57 inches tall, making it ideal for the difficult St. Paul neighborhoods.

Triple E: Honesty, Integrity, and Compassion

Triple E Water and Sewer (EEE), was founded in 2016 by Eric E. Erickson. Under the mentorship of his uncle, Eric worked as a pipe layer in the industry for 20 years. When his uncle retired Eric pursued creating a company based on his values of honesty, integrity, and compassion. Using his family truck and renting equipment Erickson worked with his cousin to get the company off the ground.

Erickson said, “About 18 hours a day was the norm for the first two years of EEE. Now, years later, we manage 3-4 crews daily and have a full fleet of trucks and equipment to handle any job. While residential service is still our passion, our crews also install commercial utilities and stormwater management structures for schools, apartment complexes, churches, and more. Our staff are passionate and prideful of the work that they do.”

Water Services

Serving almost 450,000 customers, the Saint Paul Regional Water Services (SPRWS) has been supplying drinking water to the city of Saint Paul and surrounding areas since 1882. The water utility has capacity to treat and pump an average of 40 million gallons of water per day. The SPRWS is self-supporting entity and does not use taxes to support its operations.

The SPRWS has introduced a 10 year plan to replace all lead water service lines, at no cost to property owners. While the program will begin officially in 2023, a small pilot project is underway, coinciding with water construction projects in progress.

Triple E crews are boring into customers basements and pulling back new copper services.

Pit Launched Power & Accuracy

In order to tackle the challenging St. Paul neighborhood layouts, Triple E needed a steerable option. Dorn said, “Most of the houses are elevated above street level, on an incline. So you have the street, and then the house is sitting up on a hill. That’s common in many Minneapolis and St. Paul neighborhoods. A pit launched, mini-directional drill is a good choice for installing water services in this type of jobsite layout. The units are compact and can operate in the cramped neighborhood setting. They can be transported on a pick-up truck and operated with a small crew compliment. They function well in tight working conditions. You can start out drilling at the curb stop and then locate and steer the head all the way up the hill.”

Triple E crews needed the capability to steer around adjacent utilities and steer into a precise location in the customer’s basement in order to pull back the new service. Also needed was an equipment option that could handle a variety of soil conditions.

Dorn said, “So the interesting thing about this is in St. Paul and Minneapolis one block you could be in sand and rock, and then the next block you could be in clay. So the sand and rock are not nearly as conducive to using piercing tools. So what’s nice about the drill is, no matter what ground conditions you’re in, it will work. And it’s fully locatable and steerable.”

To further overcome difficult conditions, Triple E crews are using bentonite to assist during the drilling process depending on the soils encountered. The bentonite pump and delivery system sits on a trailer next to the jobsite. Fifty foot long hoses go down to the machine in the pit and delivery the bentonite slurry.

Once installed, crews connect the new service and restore the basement area with minimal disruption.

Get the Lead Out!

Most of the work for the St. Paul project is being completed neighborhood to neighborhood. Dorn said, “Crews will be doing one lead replacement bore at one house, and then right next door or maybe two houses down, they have a crew that is digging a pit for the machine. So while the one pit has been established and work is underway, they’re digging the next pit. They might have one lane of traffic that’s coned off, but that’s it for disruption.”

Triple E crews are working from the curb stop up to the residence. They’re digging a small coupon in the basement floor, approximately 2 feet wide by 2 feet long in size and about a foot deep. That is done first so that everything is established before drilling begins. Then crews drill up through the small coupon pit in the floor of the next to the home’s main water valve.

At the curb, average depth of the water service is approximately 6 to 7 feet deep, with most machine pits measuring 4 feet wide by 5 feet long. Typical installation lengths range between 50 to 60 feet. But, from the pit at the curb to the basement of the house there is often between 20 to 30 feet of elevation. 

Dorn said, “The person locating talks to the drill operator and they’ll steer that head right into that small hole in the basement to make the connection. The operator and locator know exactly where the steering head is at all times in order to safely bore around adjacent utilities and into a small pit dug in the basement. And then they pull back.”

Crews use cable pipe pullers wrapped around the new copper service. The cable puller attaches to a swivel and is connected to the steering blade of the drill stem. The whole configuration is then pulled back. Actual drilling takes about 45 minutes to an hour. Once complete, the pit launched HDD unit is moved to the next bore and then the restoration crew comes in.

Dorn said, “It’s more or less the crew that digs the pit that does the restoration. The coupon hole in the basement is restored. They’ll go back and backfill the machine pit after the connections made to the actual curb stop. So they kind of leapfrog each other back and forth. They’re getting several houses done per day sometimes more.”