A joint in an aging section of water main opened as the result of excavation alongside the pipe Tuesday, leading hundreds of city residents to lose water service for nearly eight hours, according to Bob Harrington, Meadville Area Water Authority project manager.
“It was a considerable mess,” Harrington said of the incident, which occurred on A Street in the Hillcrest housing development but affected about 300 customers in the surrounding area. “The joint came open when they removed the dirt — that’s what caused the break.”
The joint in question, a 90-degree elbow, relied on the concrete and earthen backfill around it to withstand the pressure of the water within it, Harrington explained. When excavation activity removed that support, the water pressure forced the joint open at about 3 p.m.
“Once you take that dirt out from behind it,” Harrington said, “out it comes.”
Meadville Housing Corp., which owns Hillcrest, was having foundation work performed on one of the houses in the development, Harrington said.
“The cause of it we’re still looking into,” said Bob Muth, executive director of Meadville Housing Corp.
In the hours following the leak, MAWA crew members scrambled to stop the flow of water and restore service, according to Harrington, shutting down valves and a nearby pump station at about 6:30 p.m. and then working to isolate A Street. Service had been restored by about 10:30 p.m., he said, and MAWA crews continued flushing hydrants for several more hours in a n effort to eliminate debris from the system.
Repairs continued Wednesday as crews added a valve to help isolate the section in case of future problems and replaced the joint and about 10 feet of 8-inch pipe at the location of the leak with PVC pipe, Harrington said. The repairs were expected to be completed Wednesday afternoon.
The pipe itself was “perfectly serviceable,” Harrington said, but was made of Transite, a material composed of cement and asbestos that was widely used in the mid-20th century, has not been used commonly for many years. Repairs did not involve cutting into the old pipe and the material did not pose a danger to MAWA workers or customers, Harrington said.
“Its old, it’s old — no question,” Harrington said. “This is the first time I’ve encountered it in 30 years (on the job). You’ve got to learn about it, but I’ve never had to physically work on it.”