Water woes deluge area

More than 50 mains ruptured in cold snap, disrupting court, classes

February 09, 2007|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,Sun reporter

Area streets turned slick and slushy. Art students were left without water to clean paintbrushes or use bathrooms. And officials at the district courthouse in Towson postponed a docket full of hearings and trials yesterday, posting signs on the building's locked doors to let people know that new court dates would be mailed out soon.

Such was the fallout from the more than 50 water mains that have ruptured this week as temperatures plummeted, causing the ground to freeze, shift and put pressure on underground pipes.

"It just keeps going," said Kurt L. Kocher, a spokesman for the Baltimore City Department of Public Works. "One is going to pop up in one place and be repaired and then you'll have another one."

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's editions of The Sun on water main breaks incorrectly reported the size of a pipe whose rupture forced another pipeline providing water to the Maryland Institute College of Art's Studio Center to be shut down. The ruptured pipeline is a 60-inch water main.
The Sun regrets the error.

Crews were expected to work through the night on the pipes.

The number of ruptured water lines has been steadily increasing since Wednesday morning when crews were working on 25, Kocher said. By the end of the day, that number had risen to 30. And by yesterday afternoon, the department was working overtime to repair 53 water main breaks.

He said that pipelines on the east side of the city and Baltimore County are traditionally more susceptible to ruptures because the soil there is less stable than the bedrock further west.

In addition to the water main breaks, Kocher said, public works crews are scrambling to investigate about 150 reports of water leaks in public streets as well as countless reports of residents who have no water because of frozen meters or frozen pipes running into their homes.

"We need to check all of those out," he said. "We're asking people to be very patient."

Patience might be wearing a bit thin at the Maryland Institute College of Art. One of the school's graduate buildings has been without water for about a week because of area water main breaks.

"It's been pretty disruptive, to say the least," said Beth Blinebury, 24, a student in MICA's graduate photography and digital imaging program. "When you can't go to the bathroom for hours at a time, it makes you not want to go over there."

The building - MICA's Studio Center on West North Avenue - houses painting, graduate photography and post-baccalaureate certificate programs as well as studios for upperclassmen and graduate students.

College officials have encouraged students working or attending classes there to hop a MICA shuttle back to the main campus to use bathrooms and have arranged for bottled water and portable restrooms to be delivered to the waterless building, said spokeswoman Cheryl Knauer.

But that gesture has been offset by the same freezing temperatures that caused the water main breaks in the first place.

"They put the port-a-potties outside, but it's a little chilly for that," said Nathaniel Rogers, 26, a painting student. "Pretty much what's happened is that we've kind of shut down for the week. It was a little funky for a while. But a lot of people have been unable to do anything because you need water to be able to clean up your brushes or to mix up paint."

Joe Squared Pizza and Bar, also on West North Avenue, had to shut down for a week until water was finally restored on Tuesday.

"We have a trickle now," said Jason Sage, a bartender at the tavern. "The pressure's not back, but we have enough to open again."

By a conservative estimate, he said, the restaurant probably lost at least $10,000 in business.

Kocher, the city's public works spokesman, said the water outages at MICA were caused by work crews' efforts to repair two separate water main breaks several blocks away. The department had to turn off a 20-inch main while working on a 16-inch broken pipeline.

Crews continued work yesterday evening on a 16-inch water main break on East Towsontown Boulevard in Towson.

That rupture forced the nearby district courthouse to close yesterday morning. Signs posted on the courthouse doors indicated that all hearings scheduled for yesterday were postponed and that new court dates would be mailed to those involved.

But the effect of the break was spotty.

Just across Chesapeake Avenue from the courthouse, a senior housing apartment complex was not experiencing any troubles with water at all.

"Thank God there are no problems because with this being a senior building, we'd have to supply the water," said George Bauer, housing manager for Trinity House Apartments. "This cold weather will bring out the worst in infrastructure - weak car batteries, weak pipes and, I guess, weak hearts, too."

Streets and parking lots downhill from the Towsontown Boulevard water main were slick with ice as water continued to pour from a nearby fire hydrant.

At another rupture - on the opposite side of York Road at Washington and Pennsylvania avenues - water continued to bubble from the street yesterday evening for the second night, following the path of the curbs and filling nearby Bankers Way with slick patches of ice and slush.

People who spot potential water main breaks can call 311 in Baltimore City and 410-396-5352 in Baltimore County, Kocher said.

jennifer.mcmenamin@ baltsun.com

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