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County on water restrictions following latest water main break

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Published on: Thursday, March 21, 2013

By Holden Wilen

CHEVY CHASE –Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission workers are continuing to repair the 60-inch water main which failed here Monday night causing more than 60 million gallons of water to spill into and wash out Connecticut Avenue.

Crews removed a 20-foot section of the 5-foot diameter concrete pipe and replaced it with a new section Wednesday. WSSC officials say it will still take several days to conclude working in the area.

The break happened approximately 8 p.m. Monday at the intersection of Chevy Chase Lake Drive and Connecticut Avenue and resulted in a geyser shooting 30 feet up in the air. The geyser caused road closures, brought down a traffic signal and knocked down a tree which brought down power lines resulting in power outages. One northbound lane is open on Connecticut Avenue between Dunlop Street and Manor Road and all southbound lanes are open.

WSSC General Manager Jerry N. Johnson called for week-long mandatory water restrictions on Tuesday for all WSSC customers in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties to ensure a continued water supply for customers and for fire protection and hospital and medical uses. The restrictions include asking customers to use water only when necessary by taking shorter showers and turning off faucets after they wash their hands or brush their teeth. The restrictions also ask customers to limit the flushing of toilets, put off washing clothes if possible, and limit the use of dishwashers and washing only full loads. A violation of the restrictions carries a $500 fine.

“Please don’t hoard water,” Johnson said. “We’re not running out, but if everyone can cut their water use by ten percent we should be okay. We appreciate everyone's understanding and cooperation."

The 33-year-old pipe is a pre-stressed concrete cylinder pipe. The break resulted in the loss of more than 60 million gallons of water. The WSSC has not determined a cause for the break and there are no customers without water service.

Though the Rockville water system is not affected many residents receive water from the WSSC including all of King Farm, College Gardens, Plymouth Woods, and portions of Twinbrook, Potomac Woods, Chadsberry, Montrose and Woodley Gardens.

Montgomery County Councilman Roger Berliner (District 1) said he is “so sorry” for his constituents in the Bethesda-Chevy Chase community. Berliner said he wrote a letter to Johnson wherein it he asked if the pipe had gone through a review yet because it would be concerning if the WSSC had recently found the pipe to not need any repairs or if acoustic fiber-optic monitoring failed to provide an early warning. He thought the county had provided enough funding to the WSSC, he said, to finish reviewing all the pipes this year.

“We have aging infrastructure in our community and often we don’t focus on it because it’s below ground,” Berliner said. “Our county has been pushing for a much more aggressive replacement than our colleagues in Prince Georges County. Maybe we’ll be able to reach common ground now in making sure that these pipes that have been vulnerable in the past are attended to.”

WSSC spokesman Jerry Irvine said the break is similar to what happened in an incident on River Road in 2008 and another incident on Capitol Heights.

“When these sized pipes get older and corroded they tend to cause a fairly spectacular break and that’s what happened here,” Irvine said.

Irvine said WSSC has taken steps to check on all the pipes and monitor them, but the process is still ongoing. Berliner said there is no way for the county to ensure another break does not happen, but WSSC must make sure it’s monitoring all the pipes in order to be prepared.

“We have taken very aggressive stands to say you’ve got to make sure that we’re monitoring this pipe and that we have a mechanism in place so that if it begins to crack we can shut it off,” Berliner said. “It’s that which I feel like we need to make sure that we’re moving forward with because that’s what our council and what I in particular have been preaching hard for given that I had endured the River Road incident.”

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