Continued conservation urged after Balto. Co. water main break

15,000 still without service due to weekend incident

some question pace of response

March 08, 2010|By Liz F. Kay | Baltimore Sun reporter

About 15,000 residents and businesses in northwestern Baltimore County remained without running water Monday evening as city public works crews refill tanks and engineer a plan to fix a 36-inch water main that broke early Saturday.

Residents in southern Reisterstown and Owings Mills were asked to continue to conserve water until full service is restored to their northern neighbors.

"As we have in every disaster situation, we're going to need cooperation," county Executive James T. Smith Jr. said.

People in Reisterstown and Glyndon north of Pleasant Hill Road might see sporadic bursts of flowing water, but Kurt Kocher -- a spokesman for Baltimore's Department of Public Works, which supplies water to both city and Baltimore County residents -- said they should keep their taps closed, for now.

"It's progressing, faster than it was yesterday," he said. "Whatever you can do to keep our taps off here, the faster it's going to be to refill all the pipes and the tanks so the system can recover."

For Nancy Tarr Hart of Reisterstown, the process wasn't fast enough. She called Smith's office, her state delegates and other officials to voice frustration that water had been restored to some parts of the community but not all by Monday.

"I'm not saying, 'Please, make a miracle,'" she said. "I am saying, 'Why is it taking so long?'"

She filled three jugs of non-potable water for her and her cat at a water distribution center that county officials set up at Reisterstown Regional Park and picked up bottled water at Walmart in Westminster.

"I will never take piped water for granted ever again in my life," she said. "This is sort of like wartime, when you're being rationed."

The system lost 3 million gallons over 12 hours before the leak was discovered, according to Kocher. Initially, 100,000 residents and businesses were without service, and county officials said the distribution center would continue as needed.

"Everybody has to understand it's a slow process," Kocher said. "Today is already better than yesterday. Tonight is going to be better than today. Tomorrow's going to be better than that."

The distribution center opened at noon Monday, and within an hour, more than 100 households picked up water. They were allowed one gallon of drinking water per person in their household and up to five gallons of non-potable water.

"I feel for these people," said Lt. Mark F. Demski of Baltimore County's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. "You don't know much you like water until you're affected."

The county Fire Department supplied a tanker truck of non-potable water to use for flushing toilets, and it was working to provide 6,000 gallons of drinking water, Demski said. Baltimore's public works department and theMaryland Food Bank also provided drinking water, according to Baltimore County Fire Division Chief Michael Robinson, and other supplies came through agreements with Walmart and Home Depot, he said.

Affected residents might be able to use water for basic needs Tuesday, but even when the system has refilled, conservation measures will be in place.

"It's not going to be a 100 percent normal situation until the pipe is replaced," Kocher said.

Plans to bring in a contractor for those repairs were "in progress," according to Kocher. However, the break occurred in difficult terrain -- the main is under a stream near a steep, wooded embankment. Engineers were working to determine how to divert the stream and build a temporary road to bring in equipment, and how to prevent the equipment from sinking in the wet ground. It may be faster to build a bypass rather than excavate and replace the broken segment, Kocher said.

Marc Ryder of Reisterstown, who lives in the affected area, said he was satisfied by the response. As a U.S. Navy engineer, he recognized the complexity of the issue.

"It's going to be difficult to get in there," he said. "I know firsthand they're doing a good job."

In the meantime, his family, including five children ages 5 to 14 years old, was showering at relatives' homes in Carroll County and "scheduling toilet time." Baltimore Sun reporter Nick Madigan contributed to this article.

Baltimore Sun reporter Nick Madigan contributed to this article.

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