Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Burst pipes plague Bethesda

More water mains break and traffic on Massachusetts Avenue could be affected until the end of the week

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Naomi Brookner⁄The Gazette
WSSC workers attempt to fix a water main break that occurred early Tuesday morning along Massachusetts Avenue in Bethesda. While the crew was confident that service would be restored to the 19 residents without water by early Tuesday evening, traffic will be affected on Massachusetts Avenue for up to three days. There was also a water main break Monday night on Willard Avenue in Chevy Chase.
Two broken pipes left more than 2,200 Bethesda and Chevy Chase residents without water Tuesday morning and collapsed a section of Massachusetts Avenue.

The first water main burst Monday night on the 4700 block of Willard Avenue. Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission crews cut service to 1,500 customers in The Irene apartment building and 700 customers in condos on North Park Avenue. In Friendship Heights.

The second broken main, on Massachusetts Avenue between Briley Place and Brookeway Drive in Bethesda, sent water rushing beneath the road about 3:15 a.m. Tuesday. The break affected 19 customers, according to WSSC, and did major damage to the road. Included in the 19 customers was Little Flower School, which was forced to close because it had no water.

The floodwater buckled an almost 100-square-foot section of Massachusetts Avenue. Traffic in both directions was diverted into the two southbound lanes as crews worked to find the break. About 500 feet of the road will need repairs, according to WSSC spokesman Mike McGill. McGill said traffic will be affected for up to three days.

McGill and Lynn Riggins, WSSC spokeswoman at the Willard Avenue water main break, both said that water should be restored to homeowners by early evening Tuesday.

Both pipes were more than 50 years old. The Massachusetts Avenue pipe was a 16-inch main, while the Willard Avenue pipe was 10 inches.

Bill Olivieri, who was at the Willard Avenue site on Tuesday afternoon, said that he witnessed the water main burst around 10 p.m. Monday night.

‘‘My wife told me the water pressure was low in the shower,” said Olivieri, who lives next to the site of the burst pipe. ‘‘A few minutes later I heard a high-pitched sound, then saw the water gushing down a drainage ditch behind my house.”

This week’s breaks and many others are due to a confluence of factors including pipe deterioration and their positioning under major roads, McGill said.

‘‘As the pipes thin out with age, they’re more susceptible to feeling the pressure from traffic above on a road like this,” McGill said.

The WSSC plans to replace a section of the line running beneath Massachusetts Avenue later this year.

A multimillion-dollar plan to replace aging water mains throughout Montgomery and Prince George’s counties over the next 30 years was recently announced by the commission.

The WSSC plans to preemptively repair 10 to 20 miles of pipeline this year, after surveying the whole network and pinpointing pipes that are most likely to break.

There have been 42 breaks and leaks in the WSSC’s entire water network this month. There were 33 last May, slightly lower than the 10-year average for that month, according to WSSC.

In addition to traffic and water troubles, the main breaks have also affected air conditioning, as many buildings use the water as coolant in central air systems. Temperatures reached into the mid-80s in the Bethesda area Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. The temperature coupled with the main break was especially a concern in The Irene, where many elderly residents live. Mary Catherine Johns, property director at The Irene, said that the building has been diverting water from its swimming pool to keep the air conditioning running.

The incidents came in the wake of another water main break two weeks ago that flooded a dozen homes on Bradley Boulevard in Chevy Chase and left more than 100 residents without running water.

Homeowners in the neighborhood filed 13 property damage claims to the WSSC. Four homes were evacuated after muddy water poured through the neighborhood, flooding one Bradley Boulevard basement to its ceiling. Two homes remained empty and condemned a week after the flood, while their owners stayed at a Rockville hotel paid for by the WSSC.