Water conservation order lifted as crews work to repair main break

City pipe rupture also forces gas cutoff, closes high school for Friday

  • Sections of pipe are seen early Friday morning in the 1600 block of Argonne Drive, where a major water main broke Thursday.
Sections of pipe are seen early Friday morning in the 1600 block… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kim…)
December 18, 2009|By Liz F. Kay | liz.kay@baltsun.com

A water conservation order was lifted at 6 a.m. Friday while crews continue to repair a major water main that broke Thursday on Argonne Drive, just south of the Northwood Shopping Center in Northeast Baltimore.

To shut down water to the 1600 block of Argonne Drive, the Baltimore Department of Public Works also had to restrict the flow of water to the chlorinator at the Montebello water filtration plant, said DPW spokesman Kurt Kocher.

The department supplies water to both city and county residents, as well as some surrounding counties such as Anne Arundel and Howard. Residents can now resume normal activities such as washing dishes and clothes, brushing teeth and showering, Kocher said, though he reminded people to keep bottled water on hand.

"We wanted to monitor and make sure we had enough chlorinated water that met all the [Environmental Protection Agency] requirements," he said.

No residents lacked water service Friday morning due to the break, Kocher said, but Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School was closed due to low water pressure.

Sections of the cast iron pipe had been removed, although it would take another three to four hours to determine how long it will take to repair, Kocher said.

He warned people across the country to be prepared for other major breaks.

"People can expect more of these because this is part of a national infrastructure crisis," he said.

The break, which occurred about 12:30 p.m. Thursday in a 42-inch main that connects with a 30-inch main in the 1600 block of Argonne Drive, caused a 6-inch gas main to break several hours later, affecting approximately 80 Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers, said Rob Gould, a spokesman for the utility.

According to BGE, those customers are still without gas Friday. Workers must remove water as well as dirt and silt that have entered the system before reintroducing gas to the main and going door-to-door to relight pilot lights.

The water main break closed Argonne Drive east of Loch Raven Boulevard. A shelter was set up at the Howard P. Rawlings dining hall at Morgan State University for anyone affected, Kocher said. BGE crews were going door to door to shut off gas lines at homes that were out of service, according to Gould.

"We are poised to begin repairs immediately, as fast as we can get in," Gould said. However, "there will be a significant lag time between the water being shut off and gas service being restored to customers."

Gould warned it might take several hours for workers to locate the gas main break and shut the gas off, and that it could take several days to remove water from the gas main, reintroduce gas and restore service to homes.

"We're dependent on the water being shut off to get in and do the work," he said.

Kocher said the broken main was at least 70 years old. He urged drivers to avoid the area.

Leonard Hall, 75, in front of whose home the break occurred, said he heard a loud noise about 12:30 p.m. and looked out his front window.

"There was a gusher of water about 10 feet high, and it was something I never saw in my whole life," said the retired worker for the city's solid waste department.

A neighbor, Louise Nelson, 66, a retired Johns Hopkins Hospital employee, said she and her son were about to drive away when they saw the break and called 311.

"We made it to our car and drove off before the water could damage it," she said. When she and her son returned home about three hours later, they parked the car in the back of the house.

The break is the latest in a series of major water main problems in the area this year. City public works staff have repaired mains on Madison Street in Mount Vernon, on Lombard Street and Saratoga Street downtown, and on Monument Street in East Baltimore, as well as in Dundalk and Halethorpe.

Baltimore Sun reporter Richard Irwin contributed to this article.

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