Baltimore officials gathered around an open manhole and ceremonially turned a steel valve key yesterday, reopening a water main that broke last year under the Patapsco River, interrupting service to 250,000 users.
The $2.5 million project required a dive team from Marine Technologies Inc. to replace a 20-foot-long section of the pipe that runs between Hawkins Point and Sollers Point, parallel to the Key Bridge.
Divers worked more than 30 feet underwater to restore the 6-foot main that serves residents and businesses in Baltimore, Baltimore County and northern Anne Arundel County.
"It's the major water source for northern Anne Arundel County," said Kurt L. Kocher, spokesman for the Baltimore Department of Public Works.
The water main carries 15 million to 25 million gallons daily, Kocher said.
Anne Arundel County draws 25 percent of its water from the city-run system, and the April 2002 break affected 85,000 customers. Water problems persisted even after alternative sources were found.
"The drought was there, and then this broke," said John M. Brusnighan, chief administrative officer of Anne Arundel County. When other counties lifted drought water restrictions last fall, Anne Arundel County still restricted outdoor water use and required businesses to reduce water use by 10 percent.
Divers inspected almost the entire 12,000-foot-pipe, swimming through it with video cameras.
They removed the damaged section in parts and then lowered the new pipe into place with a crane, said Luther Bathurst of Whitman, Requardt and Associates, an engineering firm that developed the repair plans.
The replacement piece weighed 10 tons, and divers had to install it while working in zero visibility, said Terry Clarke, a diver and project manager for Marine Technologies.
"Light [from the helmets] didn't work down there because of the sediment," Clarke said. "So everything was done by the diver's feel."
Mayor Martin O'Malley, who joined DPW officials at yesterday's event near the Key Bridge, recognized the courage of the divers, who spent up to six hours at a time underwater repairing the pipe.
"We are celebrating the incredible guts and courage it took the diving team to go down there and fix the water main," he said.
Lifting the 34-pound helmet worn by the divers, O'Malley glanced at Clarke.
"And I thought being mayor was hard," he said.