WSSC crews, using a keylike device on a 16-foot pole, cut off the geyser about 3 a.m., which required turning two valves 150 times to isolate the broken section and redirect water around it.
Connecticut Avenue, a major commuter artery between the Maryland suburbs and downtown Washington, remained closed overnight until 7 a.m., when the southbound lanes reopened. One northbound lane reopened Tuesday afternoon, but rush-hour backups continued.
What happens when water mains burst
Jerry Irvine, a spokesman for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission, explains how a 54-inch, highly pressurized water main burst along Connecticut Avenue in Chevy Chase Lake, just inside the Capital Beltway, late Monday night. No one was injured, and the break caused no significant property damage, but it blew a large crater in part of Chevy Chase Lake Drive, where part of the road and sidewalk were ripped out. The pipe was installed in 1980
WSSC officials said drinking water remained safe but ordered people in Montgomery and Prince George’s to conserve it by limiting toilet flushing and postponing laundry to help restore the system and maintain water pressure for fire hydrants and hospitals. Violators could be fined up to $500. The system lost more than 60 million gallons during the break, the WSSC said.
No one was hurt and no private property was damaged, WSSC officials said.
Even so, it was the kind of unforeseen rupture that officials in Montgomery and Prince George’s say WSSC assured them would be prevented with investments in a sophisticated break-detection system.
Those counties’ officials have cited it as a reason they have been skeptical that WSSC’s proposal to limit new building within 80 feet of its largest mains is necessary. The county officials have said expanding the building setback from the current 25 feet to 80 feet would prohibit the kind of dense, urban development the counties are planning on to attract and focus economic growth.
County Council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), who has questioned the need for a larger building setback, said he wants to know whether the technology is reliable. Berliner’s district includes the site of the Chevy Chase break as well as that of a major break in 2008 along River Road in Bethesda, where motorists had to be rescued from a torrent of water.
“If it did have this equipment that our communities are relying on, then we really need to understand what went wrong,” Berliner said. “I’m sort of tired of these unnatural disasters, and I know my community is. . . . We need to understand exactly what went wrong here in order to judge fairly what we need to do going forward.”
The break-detection equipment led the WSSC to shut off an eight-foot pipe in Montgomery in 2010 after a flurry of “pings” was detected.
WSSC officials have said that about 80 miles of its pipe four feet in diameter and larger will have the equipment installed by this summer.