Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Oldsmar reviews recent water main break, vows to do better next time

OLDSMAR — It could be argued that delivering fresh drinking water through your tap is the most important thing a city does.

Sure, putting cops on the street is important. Sewage plants and trash pickup are handy. Code enforcement and recreation centers are nice.

But water for drinking and cooking and showering is crucial. That's why, when Oldsmar recently lost water service for a weekend, City Hall vowed to make sure it would never happen again.

This week, the Oldsmar City Council got a lengthy briefing on what went wrong the weekend of July 21-22, and what steps the city is taking to avoid a repeat.

A broken 8-inch water pipe left homes and businesses in the city of 14,000 without a consistent source of water for 36 hours as public works employees searched the city, struggling to find the leak. Eventually, a resident on a dirt bike found it.

The main problem, officials said, was that this leak was very well hidden. Normally, a water main break is apparent and is quickly spotted. But this one was in an old fire hydrant feed line, hidden in a water-filled drainage ditch on the eastern edge of the city. The water pouring out of the broken pipe was obscured by the water that was already in the ditch.

Also, the leak was right beneath a palm tree, which hid it from helicopter searches.

"The city has never had a break this big that we have not been able to find within 15 minutes. It's just never happened," said Lisa Rhea, Oldsmar's public works director.

Rhea recounted a timeline of events from that Saturday morning:

1:30 a.m.: Water main breaks.

3 a.m.: An operator starts getting calls from residents about low pressure.

5 a.m.: Crews arrive at water pump station, try to restart system.

6:30 a.m.: Workers begin driving the streets, searching for the leak.

9:30 a.m.: Crews begin isolating parts of the water system. That means they identify a section of piping, find the appropriate valve, and turn it off. If the surrounding water pressure rises, the broken pipe is in that section.

However, Oldsmar has 4,000 valves along 100 miles of water pipe in a 10-square-mile city. Rhea described crews working their way through the system "like hopscotch" all day Saturday, opening and closing valves.

At 10 a.m. that Saturday, Oldsmar established an emergency operations center, mostly to handle communications. The city's telephone system mailbox filled up with about 1,000 messages.

By 11 p.m. Saturday, water service was restored to the northern and western parts of the city.

It wasn't until noon Sunday that a resident flagged down a city worker and showed him the location of the leak. Water was restored to the rest of the city later that day.

So what should Oldsmar do differently next time? Rhea said officials are examining several options:

• Re-evaluate the alarm system at the city's water pump station.

• Establish "isolation zones" within the city's water system — perhaps eight different sections of pipes, with maps of where all the valves are. This could help workers isolate problems faster.

• Explore using remote pressure monitoring or leak detection equipment.

Mayor Jim Ronecker was unsatisfied with what he viewed as a lack of communication on the weekend of the leak.

"I understand we had the perfect storm going on," he said. But it was frustrating to call various city phone numbers and find the voice mailboxes full.

Most Oldsmar City Council members were satisfied that the city is taking steps to avoid a repeat.

"I'm very impressed with what you have come up with to maybe alleviate the time factor if we have another major break," said Vice Mayor Jerry Beverland.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Oldsmar reviews recent water main break, vows to do better next time 08/10/12 [Last modified: Friday, August 10, 2012 7:16pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. The two Ricks tangle at what may be final debate

    Elections

    ST. PETERSBURG — In what is likely the last mayoral forum before the Nov. 7 election, Mayor Rick Kriseman and former Mayor Rick Baker started out small, discussing neighborhood issues like recycling and neighborhood funding. They ended tangling over familiar subjects: the future of the Tampa Bay Rays, sewage …

    Mayor Rick Kriseman (right) squared off against former Mayor Rick Baker (left) during a debate moderated by Tampa Bay Times political editor Adam Smith (center) Wednesday night. [CHARLIE FRAGO | Times]
  2. Tampa Chamber of Commerce announces small business winners

    Business

    TAMPA — The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce selected the winners of the 2017 Small Business of the Year Awards at a ceremony Wednesday night at the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. More than 600 attendees celebrated the accomplishments of Tampa Bay's small business community.

    Vincent Cassidy, president and CEO of Majesty Title Services, was named Outstanding Small Business Leader of the Year by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

  3. UF president Kent Fuchs: 'Charlottesville changed everything' (w/video)

    K12

    GAINESVILLE — Wednesday evening, hazy rumors of an impending Neo-Nazi march reached some wary protesters. A few quickly rallied to denounce the marchers in downtown Gainesville, only to find plazas empty but for police.

    University of Florida President W. Kent Fuchs talks with reporters Wednesday about white nationalist Richard Spencer's planned speech on Thursday. He said of Spencer: "In a small way, he is causing us to redouble our focus on supporting actions that are the opposite of what he wants." [WILL VRAGOVIC   |   Times]
  4. Kenya vote chief says 'difficult' to have credible election

    World

    NAIROBI, Kenya — It is "difficult to guarantee a free, fair and credible election" in Kenya's fresh presidential vote just eight days away despite "full technical preparedness," the head of the election commission said Wednesday as another wave of uncertainty swept through East Africa's largest economy.

  5. International array of artists chosen as finalists for Pier project

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — A diverse group of six artists will compete for a chance to install their work at the city's multimillion-dollar Pier District, expected to open in early 2019.