An early warning system designed spot water line breaks before they rupture isn't a fail safe for all pipes. And as many as 800 sections of pipe across two area counties aren't covered by the detection system.
CHEVY CHASE, Md. – A water main break like the one that shot a geyser several stories into the air and caused major damage in Chevy Chase last month could happen again elsewhere in the region.
Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have up to 800 sections of pipe like the one that ruptured in Chevy Chase on March 19.
Additionally, Montgomery County Councilman Roger Berliner told WTOP he was surprised to learn an early warning system couldn’t spot this type of break.
“We thought we had a monitoring system in place that we could assure our public that they are safe,” Berliner said.
But Jim Neustadt, Director of Communications and Community Relations for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, says WSSC has always been upfront about the limitations of the monitoring system.
The system works by listening for the noises made when pre-stressed wire breaks. But if a section of pipe contains no wire, like the failed piece in Chevy Chase, the system would not detect the failure.
Crews rebuild a curb Wednesday in Chevy Chase. The work is as part of ongoing repairs after a 60-inch water main burst in March. (WTOP/John Aaron)
“We have never said [acoustic monitoring] is fail-safe,” Neustadt said. “We know that as much as we do, there’s always something that can happen.”
A full report on the break is expected to come out in July. The massive water main break left 1.8 million WSSC customers on water restrictions for several days while crews worked to replace a 20-foot section of pipe.
Work to restore damage to a nearby creek bed, trees, a portion of Wisconsin Avenue and sidewalk were expected to take weeks.