UPDATE: Degraded Port Townsend water main breaks causing flooding, shoreline advisory

Posted 11/25/20

A broken water main last week caused significant flooding damage and closed off a section of Water Street last week and prompted a pollution warning to Port Townsend Bay after it caused a sewage …

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UPDATE: Degraded Port Townsend water main breaks causing flooding, shoreline advisory

Posted

A broken water main last week caused significant flooding damage and closed off a section of Water Street last week and prompted a pollution warning to Port Townsend Bay after it caused a sewage overflow.

City crews worked to quickly stem the flow of water.

The sewage spill prompted a “no water contact” advisory from Jefferson County Public Health and health officials said testing of water samples showed elevated levels of enterococcus bacteria, an indicator of fecal matter associated with sewage.

City of Port Townsend Public Works director Steve King said the break happened in a deteriorated section of cast-iron pipe.

"It looked like about 8 feet of pipe actually split longitudinally," King said. "Of course, that let out a massive amount of water."

Enough water, in fact, to saturate the subsurface surrounding the pipe and lift up a swath of asphalt at the Water Street and Monroe Street intersection.

"We had to strip that pavement off before we could ever allow cars back on it," King said.

The city now looking to replace the old pipe for the entire affected area of Water Street.

By removing the old, brittle cast iron, King said the Public Works department can save themselves a headache further down the line and swap out all the old pipe at once.

The cost of the fix is estimated at $130,000, and the city's water systems capital funds will be tapped to pay for the new line. The funds — which are used for scheduled pipe replacement projects — have gone largely unused this year due to the pandemic.

King said when the break occurred, approximately 30 percent of the city's water customers lost service, including those in Uptown and the Morgan Hill neighborhoods. The loss of water pressure only lasted about an hour, at which point crews were able isolate the leak and stop the flow of water.

The leak, however, wasn't plugged until 180,000 gallons spewed out of the broken main.

An estimated 80,000 gallons flowed into the nearby Port Townsend Bay and not more than 5,000 gallons of that is believed to have come into contact with sewage.

The health department’s “no contact” advisory was lifted Monday after additional testing showed a decline in bacteria levels.

While water customers may have noticed a brief change in their water color or taste, King said multiple water quality tests and flushing of the system were conducted to ensure that no contamination had occurred from the break. Discoloration to the residents’ water is likely attributable to flow changes stirring up sediment and collected rust in the city’s water infrastructure.

The tests, he added, show that the water is safe to drink and there is no possibility of contamination from the sewage that spilled.

King said he hoped construction at the intersection would be wrapping up before Thanksgiving, but noted that was highly dependent on the weather due to the need for repaving work. 

King praised Seton Construction, the company in charge of the repair project, and also lauded the quick response by city employees to stop the flooding.

"I do want to tip my hat to the public works crews; they used the electronics in the system and telemetry to identify the problem quickly and address it," King said. “Sixty minutes of downtime for a break like that is really pretty incredible. Just a real professional crew."

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