In wake of Port Townsend water main break, city manager sees need to improve notification system

PORT TOWNSEND — Now that a broken water main has been fixed and city water has been declared safe to drink — after a 27-hour incident put thousands of residents, including restaurants, on a boil-water advisory — were any lessons learned?

Port Townsend City Manager David Timmons said the city should look at quicker ways to notify residents of similar situations in the future.

“What this situation really highlights is the need to look at an emergency notification system,” Timmons said.

“And not just a city system, but one that can be used for the entire county.”

He is going to look into systems that could call and e-mail residents in the event of an emergency.

Health officials phoned restaurants, schools, the hospital and senior citizen centers individually on Monday.

The news then spread rapidly by cell phone — but many residents learned the specifics of why brown water was spilling from their taps from news alerts posted on the Peninsula Daily News’ Web site and at other local Internet sites and through Twitter and Facebook postings.

A rupture in a 12-inch main near Water and Monroe streets in the city’s tourist district around 12:30 p.m. Monday caused a flush of approximately 150,000 gallons of water from the system.

Brown water poured from taps because the break disrupted water pressure, stirring rust sediment inside the pipes.

Some 6,000 residents were advised by the state Department of Health to boil their water or drink bottled water.

Restaurants and other food service operations were asked to shut down.

Supermarkets reported brisk sales of bottled water.

Multiple test samples sent to the state came back clean at 3 p.m. Tuesday, and the state lifted its “boil before consuming” advisory and allowed businesses to reopen.

To avoid damaging household plumbing, officials said anyone with brown water should run their tap for at least 15 minutes until the water cleared up.

Timmons said a latent fracture along a pipe ruptured when a compacting machine working on construction in the downtown area drove over the ground some four feet above the buried pipe.

Timmons said the pipes in the area were of many different ages, and it was unknown if the pipe ruptured due to dilapidation — or decay — or if it was a problem created in the initial construction of the pipe.

The pipe was repaired Monday night.

It was not known Tuesday how much the repair cost.

Not at risk

Timmons said that residents were not at risk due to the break.

“Nothing new got into the system when the pipe broke,” Timmons said.

“All the sediment that is kicking around in there was already there, it just got stirred up.”

Timmons said sediment included small particles of rust, sand and other minerals that exist within the water system.

Bottled water

Stores reported brisk sales of bottled water Monday and Tuesday as people stocked up.

Deb Shortess, manager at Port Townsend Food Co-Op, said the store had one bottle of water left on the shelf Tuesday afternoon.

“If you are that last person coming in, then you are in luck,” Shortess said.

“Beyond that, we have nothing left and will be out until our next delivery Wednesday morning.”

Shortess said the Co-Op had reports from other stores in the area that they, too, were selling out of water.

The deli at the Co-Op shut down Monday as a part of the food services operation ban imposed by the state.

“We could have started up again at noon [Tuesday] if we boiled water to cook, but we made the decision to just wait until Wednesday and start up again then,” she said.

Gary and Nancy Tocatlian, owners of T’s Restaurant, said they shut down operations Monday night after receiving a call from the city.

“But we didn’t get a call until 5:45 p.m.,” Nancy Tocatlian said.

“We served a full lunch crowd, and we were slammed.”

Lost money

The Tocatlians estimate that by missing out on a dinner service, they lost about $3,000 in business.

“It’s hard to shut down for dinner during the holidays,” Nancy Tocatlian said.

“People are with large groups and a lot of people choose to go out to dinner around this time of the year.”

Gary Tocatlian also said now they would have to clear out all their water as a precaution for their patrons.

“It’s going to cost money to melt all the ice we have, take time to freeze new ice, clear and replace the filters and flush the systems,” he said.

“But we will do it, just to be safe.”

________

Reporter Erik Hidle can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at erik.hidle@peninsuladailynews.com.

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