Suddenly, Montgomery Is Hit By Wave of Water Line Breaks

A water main break Wednesday caused extensive damage along Bradley Boulevard in Bethesda. It was followed by breaks in Bethesda and Rockville.
A water main break Wednesday caused extensive damage along Bradley Boulevard in Bethesda. It was followed by breaks in Bethesda and Rockville. (By Michael Williamson -- The Washington Post)
By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 19, 2007

A second neighborhood in Bethesda and a school in Rockville were without water yesterday morning after two more pipeline breaks in Montgomery County.

The incidents followed a water main rupture Wednesday night in Bethesda that initially affected 100 homes and closed a section of Bradley Boulevard.

Just hours after workers from the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission completed repairs on the 70-year-old section of pipe that broke in the 5100 block of Bradley, a pipe burst about two miles away.

Damage was less extensive in the second incident, which occurred about 3 a.m. yesterday at Keokuk Street and Jamestown Road. About 12 homeowners were affected. Repairs on the second break were expected to be completed yesterday evening.

According to the WSSC, one home's driveway was flooded in the Keokuk Street incident, and several homes on Bradley had flooded basements and soggy carpets.

The WSSC, which provides water to most residents of Montgomery and Prince George's counties, blamed aging pipes for the problems in the Bethesda area.

"Basically, our system was built over the last 70 to 80 years, and we're coming to a point where old segments are wearing out due to old age,'' said Joe Zorica, the WSSC's chief engineer.

A third, unrelated, water main break happened in Rockville, which operates its own water system. School officials canceled classes at Maryvale Elementary School after a fire hydrant test that went awry caused a water main to burst and cut off water to the campus. Repairs were completed by 8:30 a.m., and the school is expected to open Monday, officials said.

Craig Simoneau, director of public works for Rockville, said a crew checking fire hydrants discovered one that was defective. But after the hydrant was opened for testing, it suddenly closed. The resulting vibration ruptured the line, causing the break at about 6 a.m.

One crew member was injured during the incident and was treated at a hospital for a bruised hand and wrist, officials said.

About 12 houses were damaged in the Wednesday evening incident on Bradley, and four were evacuated. Some residents remain in temporary housing, officials said.

WSSC officials said the pipeline was repaired, but westbound lanes on Bradley Boulevard will remain shut until paving work can be completed early next week.

Zorica said breaks are more likely to occur in the inner suburbs, where the infrastructure is older.

"The problem we have [in Bethesda] is mirrored throughout the country,'' said Mike McGill, a WSSC spokesman. "Water mains are out of sight, out of mind a bit. We really need to address the problem. When they get older, they're more likely to fail.''

The WSSC has 5,300 miles of water pipe in Prince George's and Montgomery counties. About 3,300 miles of that is 30 years or older, McGill said. In 2006, the WSSC replaced about 19 miles of water pipe; this year, the agency expects to replace a similar amount.

Montgomery fire and rescue services were assessing the effect of the breaks on hydrants and brought in additional tank trucks as backup, spokesman Pete Piringer said.

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