Main break leaves Reisterstown corridor homes, businesses without water

County conservation order likely to be in effect today

March 07, 2010|By Jill Rosen and Michael Dresser

About 100,000 homes and businesses along the Reisterstown Road corridor lost their water service Saturday after a large water main break, and even those who had their service restored are being urged to continue strict conservation measures until told otherwise.

The break, which drained more than 1 million gallons from two storage tanks in just over a half-hour, created an outage that stretched for miles along heavily traveled Reisterstown Road, from the Baltimore City line through to Butler Road in Baltimore County. Homes and businesses in Randallstown and Woodlawn also lost water.

The water loss from the break that occurred about 2 a.m. in the woods off Gwynnbrook Avenue was "major," said Baltimore County Fire Division Chief Michael Robinson.

Although the outage occurred in the county, the water distribution system is owned and operated by the Baltimore Department of Public Works, which supplies millions of suburban customers from city-owned reservoirs.

Kurt Kocher, a public works department spokesman, said Saturday night that limited water service had been restored to many customers in the southern end of the corridor around Pikesville. But he said in the northern part of the corridor, around Reisterstown and Glyndon, many customers had little or no water.

Residents whose water was restored were being urged to strictly conserve their use of water so that water pressure to customers in the northern areas could be improved. In effect, the main break was posing a question about the altruism of those in the south: Would they refrain from taking showers for the benefit of people they might not know a few miles to the north?

"We really, really need their support," Kocher said. "We really, really need them to help neighbors in the northern reaches."

Kocher said the conservation measures are expected to remain in effect this morning. He urged residents of the affected area to turn to radio, television or for updates throughout the day.

Until then, he said, it's OK to have a drink of water or wash one's hands or flush the toilet. But officials were urging residents not to run washing machines or dishwashers or otherwise use large amounts of water.

"Just because you have water doesn't mean you don't need to conserve," he said.

Kocher said the break in a 56-year-old, 36-inch water main emptied two huge tanks in the Pleasant Hill area of the county of 1.3 million gallons of water in 36 minutes.

City and county police officers and firefighters, as well as homeland security and emergency management officers, searched for the source of the break throughout Saturday morning and into the afternoon, Robinson said, adding that it was unusual not to be able to immediately find the location. "Typically," he said, "we readily identify it and put crews into action."

Helicopter crews flew overhead on the lookout for burbling water, while others in the 100-person response team flushed water into the system at strategic points to watch for pressure drops. Others were monitoring streams for unusual water levels.

By late afternoon, officials had located the point of the break, near Earhart Court in the Gwynnbrook neighborhood. Kocher said there was no flooding because the water ran into a nearby stream.

The focus then turned to fixing the problem, complicated because the broken portion ran under a stream in a steep section of woods. As of Saturday night, officials were still unsure how long the repairs would take and when water would be restored to the last homes. Officials said those homes and businesses from Pleasant Hill Road north to Butler Road would be the last to see service restored.

It was not immediately clear whether the age of the pipe, its materials or the recent freeze-and-thaw cycles were the main culprit of the damage.

Joyce Madden, who lives on Highfalcon Road near Reisterstown, noticed her pressure drop dramatically early Saturday before her water disappeared. She had a pitcher of water in her fridge, so she wasn't worried about what to drink - it's whether she could flush and shower this morning.

"What about church?" she wondered. "I have to wash my face - at least."

In Reisterstown, most of Main Street was waterless by lunchtime. At Village Pizza, manager Sergio Capuano had turned off the soda machine, was serving pizza on paper plates and sent one of his employees out to buy bottled water. He hoped the bottled stuff would be enough to wash the dishes - if not, he might have to close.

"It is aggravation," he said. "It's just making things hard."

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