Water main breaks in Central Oakland

By John Manganaro

Tuesday’s 90-degree temperatures even made the ground sweat.

At least, that was the… Tuesday’s 90-degree temperatures even made the ground sweat.

At least, that was the scene on one Central Oakland street after a 12-inch water main burst around 1 p.m., scattering chunks of cement and crushed asphalt across the road. Police responded quickly to the gushing break, closing a two-block stretch of South Bouquet Street between Bates and Joncaire streets.

It is unclear exactly how many residents lost water service because of the break, which opened a 2-foot hole in the ground and turned the road into a murky stream, but residents along South Bouquet Street reported losing water shortly after 1 p.m.

One Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority worker said the sweltering summer temperature likely played a hand in the break. He and his crew were investigating the cause and said full water service would be repaired by Tuesday night.

“These things are always temperature, in both the summer and the winter,” said a worker. “When you get fluctuating water temperatures coming in, that puts stress on the lines. Add that to the ground shifting with the temperature and you can get a break.”

He said a 12-inch line is “big, but not the biggest kind of line.”

Whatever the line’s size, it caused an impromptu geyser that spewed water and asphalt for at least 20 minutes and reached a height of 3 to 4 feet, according to eyewitnesses. Water ran swiftly down South Bouquet, then banked sharply right to descend Joncaire.

“We watched it break up the ground,” said Oakland resident and Pitt student Mattie Moran, who lives in the apartment building standing beside the ruined street. He described the blacktop carnage from the shade beside the road.

“It started as a few little holes, but you could hear rumbling and it just kind of bubbled up through the ground,” Moran said, pointing to a scar-like contusion running clean across the street.

Police officers set up barriers and redirected traffic as he spoke, guiding in the construction vehicles, which arrived shortly before the water stopped gushing.

“What are you kids doing out here?” one water and sewer authority worker yelled to Moran and the small cadre of curious residents. “Get inside to the AC, we’ll handle it.”

“What air conditioner?” Moran replied. “We don’t have any air, and now we don’t have any water.”

“You should be inside drinking beer then!” joked one of the workers.

Fellow Oakland resident, Jeremy Knisely, who lives at the bottom of Joncaire Street, echoed Moran’s frustrations.

“I was about to go on my daily Rite Aid trip, but the road was a river,” said the shirtless Kaisely, his long red hair hanging damp in the sweltering summer afternoon.

The water crew started reconstruction work by 3 p.m., a process which involves digging up the road, cutting out the length of broken pipe and replacing it with a pre-cut copy. In ideal conditions, such a fix should take no more than eight hours, workers said, but there’s no way to know until its done.

“You never know what can happen once you start digging and replacing lines, but we’ve got our crew together, and we’re already moving,” one crew member said. “This kind of stuff happens every day somewhere in the city, and we always manage to clean it up.”

During the repair process, workers used a backhoe and high-powered cement saw to break up the damaged stretch of concrete, and with some deft shovel maneuvers they were able to dig an approximately 10-foot-by-10-foot hole, exposing the damaged water line so it could be repaired.

One Oakland resident, walking by the recently stopped break, said he is worried this break could prove as difficult to fix as the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

“I hope BP isn’t in charge of cleaning this thing up,” Rhys Sloss, who is subletting an apartment on Dawson Street, said. “I would hate to lose water on the hottest day of the year and have no one able to fix it. This is part of Mother Nature’s payback.”