Other crews had spent three days trying to fix the valve, hoping to head off a water outage that utility officials said would be necessary to replace part of an enormous water main on the verge of exploding. But with new parts for the 48-year-old valve unavailable, the other crews had said they found it impossible to repair.
Destelhorst, an admittedly stubborn former auto mechanic from Crownsville, wouldn’t have it. He said Thursday that he was prepared to break every tool he had to get the gears turning and the valve closed.
“No one should have to go without water,” he said.
WSSC General Manager Jerry N. Johnson credited Destelhorst, his partner Tommy Ecker and their colleagues with averting “a major disaster.” By Tuesday night, the team had turned the gears 400 times, successfully closing the valve and isolating a relatively short section of the damaged pipe. Rather than having to close a three-mile section, the utility had to isolate only 0.82 mile once it was able to shut the valve, officials said.
With water being diverted around a far shorter section, officials said, the system could continue to deliver it to the affected area while the damaged main was drained for repairs.
Late Wednesday morning, Johnson called off the outage. The valve had, indeed, closed, he said. The proof: Water levels in the system were rising as water was being routed around the damaged main.
“These two came forward and said, ‘Give us the ball, Coach, we’ll run with it,’ ” Johnson said of Destelhorst and Ecker at a sweat-dripping news conference Thursday at a WSSC facility in Hyattsville.
Johnson said that repairs to the 54-inch main would be completed Thursday evening and that the main should be back in service by the weekend, after water-quality tests. Once the pipe is back up, mandatory water restrictions — no outdoor watering, limited household use — will be lifted in the affected area.
The utility chief continued to face questions about why WSSC officials hadn’t disclosed that valve-repair efforts were underway as they continued to warn the public to prepare for five days without water during a heat wave.
WSSC officials said on Monday evening that making repairs to the damaged main would require the unusually extensive and lengthy water outage because there was no way to redirect water around it.
The WSSC’s advisory caused businesses to close, hotels to empty out and residents to fill bathtubs and scramble for bottled water.