Originally created 07/10/98

Pipe key to easing ban

The solutions to Augusta's water woes might rest in a single pipe.

Utility crews worked late Thursday to repair and test a 42-inch water line, closed since 1996, that would bring another 10 million gallons per day to the city's twin reservoirs. Those gallons would ease the city's water shortage and allow officials to lift a total ban on outdoor water usage imposed Thursday morning.

Officials were hoping to reopen the pipe early this morning, said Augusta Assistant Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier. During an inspection Thursday night, workers found and repaired two small cracks in the four-mile steel pipe -- one in a stretch along Azalea Drive, and another along Berckmans Road, he said.

The night work was the cap to a long day for city water officials, who worked throughout to inspect and repair the line.

"We're doing everything we can," said Utilities Director Max Hicks, standing Thursday morning with a water crew near an open manhole at the reservoirs, juggling calls on a cellular phone and a two-way radio to keep contact with crews throughout the city.

"If we could do that, you would see these reservoirs start to come on up," Mr. Hicks said, referring to reopening the 42-inch line, which was closed after it broke several times. "In two weeks, the reservoirs would be full, and everyone could breathe a sigh of relief."

As some water crews inspected the line to see if it was suitable for use, other crews worked to repair a 10-inch water main that broke about 1:45 a.m. Thursday. The break, under the intersection of 15th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, temporarily left some nearby Augustans without water and caused officials to impose a total ban on outdoor watering for all homes and businesses north of Gordon Highway.

After the break, water in the city water system's clear wells -- which store treated water ready for use -- dropped to levels two feet lower than normal, Mr. Hicks said. The wells lost about 1.6 million gallons during the break, he said.

Besides affecting residents, the total ban also temporarily put some car washes out of business. Larry Frakes, owner of The Wet Spot, a self-service car wash at the corner of 15th Street and Wooten Road, watched as workers fixed the broken pipe just a few yards from his parking lot.

Besides being affected by the break, the watering ban put him out of business until further notice. For Mr. Frakes, who owns another car wash at the corner of Tobacco and Morgan roads, the car wash business is his whole livelihood.

"All I do is car washes," he said. "Without water, it's going to be rough."

Other car-wash operators said they didn't know of the ban.

At the corner of 15th and Reynolds streets, Emem Stuppard, a supervisor with Friendly Waters Car Wash Center, continued washing a red GMC pickup truck parked in the center's garage at about 3:30 p.m.

He said he was unaware of any ban that included car washes and that he would continue to operate his business as usual until somebody told him otherwise.

"Until they enforce it, I guess we'll keep moving until they enforce it," said Mr. Stuppard.

He said the business wouldn't be able to pay employees and bills if it were forced to shut down.

"We can't do anything without water," he said.

Officials will be able to lift the total ban sometime today after water levels in the clear wells rise, Mr. Hicks said. Affected areas will return to the odd-even system used Wednesday, he said.

Areas south of the highway had remained on the system through the total ban. Under the system, most residents remained under an odd-even system -- homes with odd-numbered addresses could water from 9 to 11 p.m. on odd days of the month, and even-numbered addresses could water during the same hours on even-numbered days.

Residents of nine west Augusta neighborhoods were allowed to water, "conservatively," at any time they chose.

The 42-inch water line might eliminate the need for such bans entirely. The line would allow the reservoirs to draw between 42 million and 45 million gallons per day, compared with their current draw of about 33 million gallons per day, Mr. Hicks said. That draw barely keeps pace with Augustans' demand for water, which has averaged about 30 million gallons per day recently, he said.

The reservoirs, which normally are filled to 29 feet, were at about 14 feet and about 17.3 feet Thursday, Mr. Hicks said.

Officials closed the line in 1996 after it broke for the fourth time.


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