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Broken water main puts residents on alert

The pipe that supplies Pinellas County with more than half its drinking water burst Thursday, prompting calls for residents to conserve water for the next five days while the line is repaired.

The pipe broke about 12:30 p.m. a mile east of Gunn Highway in the Odessa area, just north of State Road 54 in Pasco County. More than 5-million gallons flowed from the line before the valve could be closed.

Residents in most of Pinellas County and western Pasco County have been asked by authorities to avoid washing their cars and watering their lawns until the pipe is repaired. Residents in the Land O'Lakes area are advised to boil their drinking and cooking water until further notice. The drop in pressure in the line may have allowed bacteria to infiltrate.

However, most users probably will not notice a drop in water pressure, said Pick Talley, Pinellas County utilities director. Pinellas is borrowing water from the city of St. Petersburg and will increase the amount it gets from its Elridge-Wilde well field in the north end of Pinellas County.

Pasco County Utilities will reroute water to the western section of the county from other areas.

The pipeline, which is defective and has burst twice before in the past nine years, supplies water to about 750,000 residents in Pinellas County and western Pasco County.

The West Coast Regional Water Supply Authority plans to spend $19-million from a settlement with the pipe manufacturer to replace the line next year.

Interpace Corp., which has since gone bankrupt, installed the pipeline in 1979. The concrete pipe is wrapped tightly around steel wire. The wire was supposed to reinforce the concrete but instead has corroded and caused a series of major ruptures that began in 1980.

The 7{-foot-wide pipe supplies about 40-million gallons a day to Pinellas County Utilities, which serves all of the county except those who live in St. Petersburg, Dunedin, Belleair, Gulfport and South Pasadena.

West Coast officials discovered the break about 12:30 p.m. when there was a major drop in pressure at their Cypress Creek station. It took two to three hours to shut the pipe down, said Michelle Klase, spokeswoman for the water authority.

Thursday's break created an instant lake the size of a couple of football fields, but by evening the water authority had pumped out most of the water.

Crews will finish replacing the line sometime Monday or Tuesday, Klase said.

The loss of Pinellas County's major water supply is manageable because demand is lower this time of the year, Talley said. The forecast of rain through the weekend also should help by lessening the need to water lawns.

The Elridge-Wilde well field normally pumps 23-million gallons a day but can pump up to 50-million gallons a day if needed, Talley said.

"If residents avoid all excess use of water, we should all be fine," Talley said.