Maintenance staffers coordinate speedy fix for badly leaking water main in Foster

Scott Swanson

Sweet Home city Maintenance Superintendent Pat Wood takes great satisfaction in the fact that hardly anybody in town knew last week that the primary pipe delivering water to Foster residents was replaced – because there was no interruption in service.

That was the result of a combination of savvy planning and on-the-ball employees who knew what to do and where to go to get the 16-inch pipe fixed.

“I was really pleased,” said Wood, who normally is not particularly effusive. “It worked out beautifully.”

The saga began Monday morning, Aug. 18, when a resident approached the city’s street sweeper and reported that there was a significant leak under the Highway 20 bridge across Wiley Creek.

Wood said his understanding was that the brother of the person reporting the leak is homeless and had been down in the creek and saw water pouring from beneath the bridge, into the creekbed.

“You never would have seen it without getting off the road,” Wood said. “You had to be looking.”

The homeless man, he said, had wondered why it was continuing, so he mentioned it to his brother, who contacted the sweeper driver.

Wood said the pipe is among the largest in Sweet Home. The water pouring out of a 90-degree elbow was washing away dirt under the bridge and was chlorinated, which presented environmental issues. It is also the Foster community’s only water source.

It was clear, he said, that the elbow would have to be replaced, because a flange-to-flange connection had split.

The leak was spewing what Wood estimated to between 200,000 and 400,000 gallons a day.

“That’s a lot of water,” he said. He reported it to the Oregon Emergency Response System, which links to the Environmental Protection Agency and other interested bureaucracies, and went to work to figure out how to repair it.

He immediately started treating the water leaking from the pipe with dechlorination chemicals, since state law requires that any water discharged within 1,000 feet of a natural stream – which is most of Sweet Home, he noted – be dechlorinated.

The first break came when he located two 10,000-gallon tanks that were still in the area following the Willamette Country Music Festival in Brownsville. Those tanks were brought in and filled with water, which was then piped through a fire hydrant into Foster’s water system to keep water flowing while workers cut off the flow to the pipe.

Wood got hold of K&R Plumbing, a large-scale contractor who revitalized the city’s sewer system in recent years, to handle the pipe replacement and a supplier located the needed elbow in Portland, which K&R was able to pick up on its way down to Sweet Home.

The job was done by Tuesday afternoon, water was flowing to customers through the line by 6 p.m. and everything was cleaned up by 7 p.m., he said.

Wood said the break came when city staff were already “really busy” with summer projects.

“I was really pleased with the performance of the crew,” he said. “They stepped up and said, ‘Yes, this is serious. We have to do something. Nobody worried about going home. Everybody worked togther so well, timing it out.”

He credited his staff for coming up with the necessary vendors and contractors to make things happen fast.

“I’ve got some good people who really know what to do,” Wood said. “They know who to call and lots of times, that’s what it is. I know a lot of smart people.

“One of the neatest things about it was we did not receive one single complaint about water from the Foster area at City Hall,” he said with satisfaction. “We were pretty proud of that. It could have been disastrous, but the way it turned out, nobody knew about it.”