Possible warning signs before big water main break

A 60-inch water main break impacted traffic for hours Tuesday. (WTOP/Max Smith)
When water mains break, blast is possibly catastrophic

wtopstaff | November 14, 2014 6:06 pm

Max Smith, wtop.com

UPDATED – Saturday – 3/24/2013, 6:45pm ET

WASHINGTON – Water restrictions in place for customers in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties were lifted late Saturday afternoon.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission announced the end of the restrictions just before 6 p.m. after repairs to a 60-inch water main were completed. The line is back in service and the water quality is good, said Jim Neustadt, WSSC spokesman.

The massive line burst Monday night in Chevy Chase and release 60 million gallons of waters. The water service asked customers to conserve water by limiting laundry loads and taking short showers to allow the system to recover from the loss of water and to ensure proper supply to hospitals and fire hydrants.

“We just want to say thank you to everybody for doing what they can to conserve and our regrets about all the inconveniences that we caused everybody,” Neustadt said.

Crews replaced a 20-foot section of the water main. Although the repairs to the pipes are complete, WSSC said in a statement that restoring the area near the broken main will take weeks.

Additional work will be needed to restore the road, sidewalk and nearby stream bed plus remove damaged trees. The remaining work will also require that the far right northbound lane on Connecticut Avenue to remain closed.

“It’s going to take a long time weeks, maybe months, to completely repair the area and the creek and the bed around the creek. Because there was a lot damage done by that water, that 60 million gallons that came out of there,” Neustadt said.

Officials still don’t know what caused the break.

“A forensic analysis is underway and will include experts outside of WSSC. It may take several months to have results,” the service said in a statement.

EARLIER – Friday – 3/22/2013, 3:58pm ET

WASHINGTON – There may have been some warning signs before a 5-foot water main burst in Chevy Chase this week.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, or WSSC, says after receiving calls about water bubbling up in the area surrounding the break, an inspector was sent out about six hours before the main burst. That inspector, and a crew that came out an hour later, found what appeared to be a leaking valve.

That valve is connected to a 24-inch pipe attached to the larger main. The valve sits in a valve vault just a few feet from the site of the break. They decided they would come back and fix it the next day.

It is not clear whether the apparent leak is related to the eventual break.

The large main does have fiber optic cables designed to detect early signs of a break so that repairs can be made, but that system apparently did not send significant warnings ahead of time in this case.

“People have to realize that we don’t have a control system where lights flash every time something happens, and we do rely on people calling from the outside,” WSSC spokesman I.J. Hudson says.

A replacement section of pipe is now in place, and WSSC workers were flushing the main on Friday as part of a final step to clean it.

Hudson says water restrictions for WSSC customers will be lifted when the pipe is back up and running, which he expects to happen “sometime this weekend.”

The replacement pipe includes the fiber optic system.

“A fiber optic cable running down the line with sensors, and what the sensors listen for is the snap of these pre-stressed wires that are in this style of pipe, which is called PCCP,” Hudson explains.

Hudson says it will take up to two months for an investigation to determine the causes of this break.

“We’re doing what we can – the monitoring system [is] important, our inspection program is important,” Hudson says.

“For the last four or five years, we have stepped up the frequency of inspection of these larger pipes to about an average between 5 and 7 years for these pipes, and when we do these inspections, we find things.”

In some instances, the pipe has to be replaced.

WSSC replaces about 55 miles of water main pipe each year at a cost of about $1.4 million per mile. The system has about 5600 miles of pipes.

The pipe is similar to one that burst along River Road in 2008.

WSSC has proposed pushing new buildings farther back from large water mains, in order to mitigate the risk of a catastrophic burst.

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