YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — For 100 years, the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District has been providing drinking water to parts of Mahoning and Trumbull counties. Some of the pipes and valves used to move the water are old and are being replaced — and one of the biggest projects is still to come.

On North Dunlap Street on Youngstown’s West Side, the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District is currently replacing three large 42-inch valves at the Youngstown 30-million-gallon reservoir. The old valves date back to 1931 and are connected to two main lines. The valves can be used to shut down the water when needed.

“We have two redundant lines: One coming down Oakwood [Avenue], one coming down Connecticut [Avenue], and then they go into the storage reservoir,” said Mike McNinch, MVSD chief engineer. “We’re able to isolate either Oakwood or Connecticut and maintain that supply to Youngstown through the reservoir.”

The valves cost $128,000 apiece, and the entire project on Dunlap costs $1.9 million. The new valves were three of 200 that have been replaced throughout the MVSD system since 2009.

Next up: Re-piping the way water comes into the Youngstown reservoir, which will push fresher water through the system and help alleviate bad-tasting water in the Lincoln Knolls area of the East Side.

“The East Side will get much better water quality,” McNinch said. “Then, the city of Youngtown is also doing a study right now to try to re-pipe and change the way the water flows.”

As the MVSD wraps up the valve replacement project, focus shifts to rehabilitating the 96-year-old Meander Reservoir Dam, which holds back the water many of us drink.

The dam project is part of the 14-year plan to rehabilitate much of the sanitary district’s infrastructure.

“We have all of our permits signed, plans through Ohio Department of Natural Resources have accepted our improvements. We’re going to go out for bid tentatively in November, and then start construction in early spring,” said McNinch,.

In October 2021, McNinch invited people to tour the dam — looking for support of what was a very expensive project.

According to McNinch, the original project was expected to cost around $41 million. He said inflation has pushed that number up to about $54 million.

The dam will be rehabilitated to handle a “thousand-year rain” — something of biblical proportions. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources wants the dam rehabilitated to where it can withstand 19 inches of rain in 24 hours — or four times the amount that’s ever been recorded.

McNinch said the dam is in good shape, and that there’s no indication of a breech anytime soon.

“There’s no structural defects. There’s no immediate danger,” McNinch said. “Again, we are building for the future.”

The MVSD has $12 million saved and is hoping for a $35 million FEMA Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities grant to pay for the bulk of the project.

In December 2022, the district was denied a rate increase by the two judges who oversee it — but McNinch said the district is planning to ask again.

“As soon as we have — hopefully — positive news from FEMA regarding the BRIC grant,” McNinch said. “We have updated financial numbers for this year. We will come up with the absolute lowest rate that we can actually ask for, present that to the judges and hope that we get a positive answer this time.”

If all goes as planned, McNinch hopes to have the dam replacement project started sometime in 2024. Once it begins, it will likely take three years to complete.