Thousands in Baltimore County still without water

Public works officials don't know when it will be fully restored to those in large swath up Reisterstown Road

March 08, 2010|By Liz Bowie |

Adel Hizi said he never realized how important water was. Then a major water main break cut off the supply to 100,000 customers in Baltimore County for the weekend - while Hizi and his wife were trying to care for their 9-month-old baby.

As the water stoppage dragged on, and as Baltimore's Department of Public Works was unable to say when the water would be turned on, the Owings Mills resident was considering taking his family to a hotel. The dirty dishes and dirty clothes were piling up, everyone needed a bath and he was using large containers of drinking water to empty the toilet.

"It is costing me $7 every time I flush," he said.

Of the 100,000 customers who lost water when a pipe burst at 2 a.m. Saturday, nearly half were expected to remain without water until some time after the workweek begins today.

Most of those lived north of Pleasant Hill Road, including the communities of Reisterstown and Glyndon. Residents reported many restaurants in the area were closed, while other businesses tried to operate without water.

Everyone wanted to know when they would see water gushing out of their spigots.

"There will be 40,000 customers without water tonight," said Kurt Kocher, a spokesman for DPW, adding that minimal water pressure might potentially be restored some time this morning.

Crews struggled throughout the weekend to refill the large above-ground water tanks that emptied when the pipes burst. At 6 p.m. Sunday, Kocher said the tank was filling at a rate of one foot per hour, and the level in the tank had to rise another eight feet.

But how fast the tank filled depended in some measure on how little water the residents in surrounding communities used, particularly during the evening.

"Everytime someone uses the water unnecessarily that does really slow down the process," he said Sunday.

Kocher said the Pleasant Hill tank, which had emptied in only 36 minutes on Saturday, was the most important of the seven or eight tanks in the area needing to be refilled.

But some water restrictions might be in place for the community for quite some time, Kocher said, because it is likely to take several weeks to repair the 36-inch cement pipe that burst below a stream bed in the Gwynns Falls watershed.

In order to fix the pipe, crews will have to reroute the stream and then dig out and replace the 54-year-old pipe. Because crews will have to use heavy equipment to do the job, he said, they will need to build a new road down to the stream, as well as negotiate with property owners whose land they will have to cross, while remaining mindful of potential environmental hazards.

In the meantime, workers have shut off water from the 36-inch pipe and rerouted the water through a much smaller, 16-inch pipe. Kocher thinks residents will have water for all normal necessities, but "there will be a prolonged period where we ask people to use water moderately," he said, and not wash cars or otherwise use a lot of water.

Repair crews will evaluate whether the break was caused by its age or some defective material and then decide whether to replace a larger section of pipe, he said. "I think it shows the importance of investing in the infastructure," Kocher said.

That was little consolation for those left without water.

"I don't know what we are going to do," said Harry I. Kleiman, 68, of Reisterstown. He and his wife, who are both in poor health, were looking for a place to stay, he said. But most of their relatives also were without water.

"At least we have electric, but this is horrible," he said.

Mark Considine of Reisterstown discovered the water outage Saturday morning when he tried to take a shower - and then went to the store and bought 6 gallons of water so he could finish bathing.

"It's pretty miserable. The water is really cold," the 45-year-old said. Between him and his dog, he had 3 gallons left as of Sunday evening. If the water didn't return by this morning, Considine said, he would be using some of his remaining water for another shower before heading to his sales job in Baltimore.

Baltimore Sun reporter Eileen Ambrose contributed to this article.

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