Originally created 07/11/98

Faulty pipe may end crisis



Doug Holland was waiting to refill his family's swimming pool until after Augusta's water crisis subsided. He learned Friday afternoon that the crisis might cause him to lose the pool entirely.

Augusta utility officials began digging up Mr. Holland's back yard, tearing down a gazebo only feet from the pool, after it was determined that a 42-inch water line ran beneath the Margate Drive property. The line, closed in 1996 because of repeated breaks, could be critical to easing the city's water problems, utility officials have said.

If the line needs further repairs, it might mean the Hollands' pool must go, Mr. Holland said.

"I was trying to look up Pool & Spa, to see if he could tell me what I could salvage," he said. "It's a bad situation, not just for me, but for everybody."

Utility officials say they hope that bad situation will end this morning if the 42-inch line is reopened. The 4-mile pipe would bring an additional 10 million gallons of water per day to the city's reservoirs off Highland Avenue. That could mean a return to odd-even rationing within days.

Those gallons would bring the reservoirs' total draw to between 42 million and 45 million gallons per day, compared to their current draw of about 33 million gallons per day, said Augusta Utilities Director Max Hicks. That draw barely keeps pace with Augustans' demand for water, which has averaged about 30 million gallons per day recently, Mr. Hicks said.

The reservoirs, which are full at 29 feet, were at 14 feet, 2 inches and 16feet, 6 inches about 6:30 p.m. Friday, utility officials said. If the line is reopened, the reservoirs would be full in about two weeks, Mr. Hicks said.

State Rep. Robin Williams, R-Augusta, asked Gov. Zell Miller to grant Augusta $100,000 from the governor's contingency fund to help pay costs associated with the water crisis. The cost of inspecting the 42-inch line alone will cost $100,000, and its repair costs could add up to another $100,000, Mr. Hicks said.

Even as workers toiled to inspect and repair the line, a total ban on outdoor watering remained in effect for all homes and businesses north of Gordon Highway. Officials imposed the ban at 11 a.m. Thursday after a 10-inch water main broke at 1:45 a.m. that day under 15th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, causing the city water system to lose 1.6 million gallons.

The city's clear wells -- which store treated water ready for use -- hadn't recovered enough Friday to allow officials to lift the ban, Mr. Hicks said.

When water levels in the wells rise, officials will be able to lift the total ban, allowing affected homes and businesses to return to the odd-even system. Areas south of Gordon Highway have remained on that system.

Under the system, most people with odd-numbered addresses could water between 9 and 11 p.m. on odd-numbered dates, and most people with even-numbered addresses could water during the same period on even dates. Residents in nine west Augusta neighborhoods could water, "conservatively," at any time they chose.

The 42-inch line would go a long way toward helping to lift even those restrictions, some officials have said. But District 4 Commissioner Moses Todd said Friday that the line was only the latest in a string of promised resolutions to the water crisis, and that Mr. Hicks should resign if it failed to resolve the problem.

"We've heard several stories about what would put us over the top," Mr. Todd said. "I understand that events happen that can change things from time to time, but not as many times as we've been told."

Mr. Hicks, a minister, was at a deacon ordination Friday night, his wife said.

Officials had said the 42-inch line would open early Friday morning, but found they had to replace a section of the line under Berckmans Road. When workers went to inspect another section of the pipe, they found it to be beneath the Hollands' gazebo, said Assistant Utilities Director Tom Wiedmeier.

Because they had to tear down the gazebo, it will take longer to inspect and repair the section than anticipated, Mr. Hicks said. If the line can be reopened, officials will begin using it this morning, Mr. Wiedmeier said.

City officials are negotiating an agreement to compensate the Hollands, said Mayor Larry Sconyers.

"The one thing we don't want to do is disturb anybody, and goodwill means a lot," Mr. Sconyers said. "I would hope we could work something out that would be acceptable to both parties."

Mr. Holland said he knew an easement claimed part of his yard when he bought the home at 2705 Margate Drive 11 years ago, but didn't realize the large size of the underground line. Previous owners built the pool and gazebo, Mr. Holland said.

Mr. Holland said he understood the need to disturb his back yard.

"We're just a drop in a big old ocean," Mr. Holland said. "We're just one family, and we're talking about a city of people. My problems are minute if you think about everybody running out of water."