Water line breaks put pressure on utility, customers
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For customers and crews of Pennsylvania American Water Co., the pressure has reached extremes since a water main ruptured nearly two weeks ago in Lincoln Place.
Yesterday, at 1:15 a.m., the company reported a main break on Baldwin Road in Hays, the latest in a string of breaks that have affected service in Lincoln Place, West Mifflin, Hays, Munhall, West Homestead, Mount Oliver and Knoxville since Dec. 10.
Repairs interrupted about 20 households, said company spokesman Philip Cynar, who added that the company supplied the homes with bottled water. The repair was "complicated by the nature of the break [a split on the length of pipe]," he wrote in an update yesterday, estimating the repair would be completed by about 8:45 last night.
Baldwin Road was closed during the evening rush hour.
For several days after the first break, residents in Munhall, Homestead and Whitaker were shut off and Steel Valley and West Mifflin schools were closed. West Mifflin schools remained closed last week.
Throughout the service area, customers have vented frustrations over going days without water, lost school days, dishes stacked in sinks, water gushing in the streets, roads blocked and businesses, such as restaurants, interrupted.
Work crews, too, are exhausted, working around the clock, said Mr. Cynar. He explained that once permanent repairs are made to the 30-inch main that ruptured Dec. 10, "theoretically, that'll put the system back to what it was."
He said the company -- which is under fire from customers and elected officials who have asked the Public Utility Commission to investigate its maintenance performance -- has spent $14 million this year on maintenance and upgrades and is working as hard as it can to stabilize the system.
Last week, he said breaks in an old system are in the nature of the business.
Each rupture and repair of a line requires a turning off for repairs and a turning back on after; the turning back on, even when done carefully, resumes a tremendous force of pressure into the lines, which are old and have been compromised by the disturbance, he said.
"The main breaks in this area are not uncommon," he wrote in a media release yesterday, "resulting from the distribution system changes made last week to the damaged 30-inch water main on Interboro Avenue. Water pressures and flow were changed because of a new valve cut. The distribution system in that area is under greater stress now because of the changes."
He said the changes were made to keep service as near-normal as possible while repairs are being completed.
Last week, a PUC legislative official answered City Council President Douglas Shields' call for an investigation, saying the commission's Security Emergency Management Section was monitoring Pennsylvania American in anticipation of a report from the utility company. The report is due within five days after repairs are completed.
"The very near future" was the best guess Mr. Cynar had yesterday for when the permanent repair to the 30-inch main on Interboro Avenue will be completed.
First Published December 21, 2006 12:00 am