Potomac water-main repairs, usage restrictions likely to wrap up Monday

Crews in Potomac begin inserting a replacement pipe in July.
Crews in Potomac begin inserting a replacement pipe in July. (Marvin Joseph/the Washington Post)
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By Phillip Lucas
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 5, 2010

Officials with the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission said the agency is on track to complete repairs to a water main Monday after technicians worked around the clock to install and secure a new section of pipe.

The agency does not plan to extend water restrictions past Monday, and officials said that since the time workers noticed the weak point in the pipe, there had been no reported outages or service disruptions.

"We're doing good," said John White, a WSSC spokesman. "Our reserves are up, and we're full."

Workers spent Sunday welding as well as rewiring fiber-optic cables that monitor corrosion damage to the 96-inch pipe, near Tuckerman Lane and Gainsborough Road in Potomac.

The next step, White said, is testing water samples to ensure that no bacterial contaminants had grown in the water.

The samples will be evaluated at a WSSC lab in Silver Spring and could take up to 16 hours to be processed. The agency doubts it will find bacteria, because contamination occurs mostly when water pressure is low. The conservation goal WSSC imposed for about 1.8 million customers in Montgomery and Prince George's counties Thursday was aimed at preserving water pressure.

By Sunday evening, WSSC had issued 233 warnings for unnecessary outdoor water use and imposed $500 fines on two customers after they had received warnings but ignored them. Officials couldn't disclose whether the customers were washing cars, filling pools or watering lawns.

"The good news is that less water has been used," White said. "Still, not the 30 percent we asked for."

WSSC reported a 14 percent drop in usage since Thursday, and officials said that although customers didn't meet the conservation goal, low water pressure has not been a problem.

There has been a steady drop in water usage since the restrictions were imposed. Many residents said they had been unaware of the restrictions. Others, including operators of a plant nursery and garden center in Silver Spring, said they did not intend to comply.

WSSC warned customers against unnecessary water use and fined customers who ignored an initial warning and violated restrictions that banned watering lawns, washing cars and topping off swimming pools.

Officials said some WSSC customers in Prince George's were unaware that they shared the same water lines as WSSC customers in Montgomery, where the portion of the water main was replaced.

"People sometimes are confused about why a break in Potomac would affect so many people around Prince George's County," said Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D).

Despite the confusion and inconvenience of water restrictions over the holiday weekend, Leggett said he heard few complaints from county residents. The quick response from WSSC prevented the weakened portion of the water main from escalating into a larger problem for its customers, he said.

"They put a system in place to give us an early warning. It worked," he said.

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