Water main break enters fourth week

Water main break enters fourth week
A mud filled crater adjacent to McDougal Rd. and close to JBT Elementary school has been the focus of attention for work crews with heavy equipment for over three weeks now as efforts in a troublesome water main break repair job are ongoing.Photo: Don Jaque.

Work crews in Fort Smith will soon enter their fourth week in a battle to repair unseen problems underground while challenged by harsh weather in their efforts to return water services in the community to normal.

Pumps laboured over the weekend to remove mud and water from the gaping crater at the junction of McDougal Rd. and Conibear Cres. and the effort to repair the broken water line was renewed Monday morning while crews awaited the arrival of a hydro-vac truck capable of removing mud slurry quickly.

Leaking water was first noted at the site on Wednesday, Feb. 19. The site was excavated and repairs made, but water continued to leak.

“The repair has failed twice; the first time was due to the main breaking approximately two metres from the (initial) repair (towards McDougal) and we are in the process of determining the reason for the second failure,” Mayor Brad Brake told The Journal.

In addition to trying to repair old brittle pipes in cold weather and dealing with chunks of frozen ground, crews down in the excavation were dealing with mud as the flow of water mixed with the silt. That meant constantly pumping out the gritty mess and hauling it away by the truckload.

Photo: Don Jaque

In addition to trying to repair old brittle pipes in cold weather and dealing with chunks of frozen ground, crews down in the excavation were dealing with mud as the flow of water mixed with the silt. That meant constantly pumping out the gritty mess and hauling it away by the truckload.

The broken water main is a clay pipe installed in the 1950s. The cause of the break is unknown, but there is conjecture that something shifted underground causing the pipe to fracture.

The high pressure water spewing underground from the broken main line led to a plugged sewer line nearby, causing the water from the broken main to flow into the sewer line and back it up along McDougal Rd. Several basements were flooded with contaminated water.

That break was only just being fixed when one of the water valves three blocks away near the Bank of Montreal broke as crews were trying to close it, making it difficult to shut off water to make the repairs at the site of the water main break.

“We initially tried to minimize inconvenience to residents by making repairs in the middle of the night, but when this repair effort failed we had to act quickly to stop the flow of water. Otherwise, the leak threatened to deplete our reservoir and overcome our pumping abilities and flood the area,” Brake said.

In addition to the issue of the broken water main, a section of sewer line on Conibear is still not functioning. Repairs cannot be made at this time because of a large power pole installation right above the area that needs to be excavated. More digging and pipe replacements will be required later in summer. In the meantime, sewage from buildings along Conibear will be removed from manholes using pumper trucks.

“I anticipate that a complete assessment of this system will occur in due course and that valves will be added, repaired and replaced throughout town,” said the mayor.

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