This week’s post is by Laurie Loftin, who can’t imagine a day truly without water.
We recently posted a link to Imagine a Day Without Water, an event to raise awareness about one of the most essential resources we have: Water. Little did we know, this would be the last post on our Athens-Clarke County (ACC) Public Utilities Department (PUD) Facebook page before our community got to actually Live a Day Without Water services citizens have come to expect.
A 24″ water main ruptured on October 15, 2015, resulting in a boil water advisory for most of Western Athens. It was the first time Athens had ever experienced this type of advisory. For five days, customers could not consume water from the tap without boiling it.
Many of us, myself included, take the delivery of clean water for granted. I rarely think about the infrastructure, coordination, and staff required to make this process happen. To give you an idea of what I mean, I share with you the departments vital to the repair of the pipe and restoration of water service to Athens, as well as their specific involvement*.
ACC Drinking Water Treatment Plant (DWTP)
Drinking water treatment plant operators noticed a drop in pressure, an increase in flow, and unusually high usage, all indicating a break along the line. Operators alerted Water & Sewer and the ACC Police Department, directing these divisions to water towers with dropping levels so they could begin the search for the trouble spot.
With an alert of the water main break and boil water advisory shared with the community, the operators were available to answer customers after hours calls for the entire span of the advisory.
ACC Water & Sewer:
After leaving a full day of work, our ACC Water & Sewer staff were called back to respond to the water main break. The exact location of the break was not immediately known. Finding the break quickly required skill and knowledge of the system This is what greeted our workers. A gushing river of water.
Dirt was removed to reach the pipe located almost 25 ft below ground. Crews began their efforts to reach the pipe in the dark. The saturated ground continuously filled the work area with water, creating a mud hole in which to dig. To further complicate matters, the crew had to maneuver around an AT&T line and a concrete pipe that were impossible to see through the muddy waters. It was imperative neither the line nor pipe were damaged. Damage to the AT&T line would disrupt 911 service to the area. The concrete pipe is one of many that transports raw water to our drinking water treatment plant. If care was not taken to protect this pipe, a greater portion of Athens may have experienced disrupted water service. When it was all said and done, these guys put in about 40 hours of work time in almost two days.
ACC Transportation & Public Works, Streets & Drainage, and Traffic Engineering
This department saw the task at hand and graciously joined forces with Water & Sewer, bringing in additional support to repair the ruptured line. Many of their staff worked side by side with Water & Sewer workers throughout the night. With the guidance of their Traffic Engineering Division, additional trucks and equipment helped to stabilize the electrical post attached to the power lines. Streets & Drainage ran six dump trucks at a time to haul fill dirt to the site.
Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT)
The ruptured line was in a very problematic location. Not only was it deep underground, but it neighbored Jefferson Road. Removing the earth to get to the pipe meant removing the ground supporting the traffic pole. If care was not taken, the tension from the street light line could have pulled the pole onto the lanes of traffic. Because Jefferson Road is a state highway and adjacent to the break, this agency was notified to supervise and provide support for the pole.
ACC Laboratory Technicians
To lift a boil water advisory, water samples must first be taken and tested. Our technicians, operations coordinator, and DWTP superintendent visited 25 different sites, collecting 100 samples to test for turbidity, bacteria, chlorine, and pH levels. The results were sent to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for review. When the water quality tests show no contamination present, this agency has the authority to lift the advisory.
ACC Police Department, Fire Department, and Emergency Managment
The police in Athens were alerted to a potential break and asked to keep their eyes open for unusual amounts of running water. In fact, the police were the first to see the water spraying around Jefferson Rd. They then alerted Water & Sewer to the specific site, so they could quickly pinpoint and turn off the valves supplying water to this section of pipe. Without a functioning street light at Jefferson Rd., the police later aided in directing traffic and protecting the crews hard at work on repairing the pipe.
ACC’s Emergency Managment Coordinator recognized the significance of no water as it relates to fire safety. With the valves to the pipe closed, water could not flow to the nearby fire hydrants. She contacted our Fire Chief to arrange for the placement of pumper trucks within the area for an immediate response time should a fire break out during the water break.
ACC Public Information Office, Water Conservation Office, Water Business Administration & Customer Service, and Transit
These departments united to put together web pages, press releases, new flashes, social media messages, and other communications to best alert the public of the status of the water main break. Transit recorded and played messages on bus routes through the affected area. These offices and many others in the county fielded hundreds of phone calls from citizens.
ACC Manager’s Office & Public Utilities Department Administration
The coordination and supervision of the entire process was overseen by the ACC Manager, Assistant Manager, and PUD Director and Assistant Director. They continue to work with the engineers and pipe manufacturer to investigate the cause of the rupture. Their management turned a potentially terrible situation into a moderate inconvenience.
We spoke to hundreds of community members to answer the understandable questions the boil water advisory raised. The patience and understanding offered throughout these calls was appreciated by all involved on this side of the break.
We have roughly 800 miles of water pipes hidden underground. If laid end to end, this pipe would reach to New York City. We don’t think about our infrastructure as it is literally buried away. I can’t speak for everyone, but this recent incident certainly brought it to light for me. It also reminded me of the great employees we have working for us in Athens-Clarke County. I am proud to call this home.
*So many people worked to get Athens through this event as painlessly as possible. I chose not to list everyone individually due to fear of missing someone, but I hope that by recognizing the departments involved with repairing the water main break you have a greater understanding of what it takes to provide reliable drinking water to Athens. I can’t imagine a day without water.