At one point during the recent water crisis in Portsmouth, Acting Mayor Kevin Johnson stated there was “no sense in candy coating” the overall situation, predicting a high likelihood of additional problems, additional water breaks.
As has been previously noted, Johnson’s words have turned out to be very prophetic.
On Monday, the long stretch of water breaks struck 12th Street, wiping out water service to the Sonic Drive-In along that roadway. Sonic Manager Ake Zeller said the restaurant had been closed all day Monday due to a water break that occurred in front of the eatery early Monday morning. Zeller said the city had the water break fixed in about five hours, but her store never opened its doors Monday.
According to Zeller, the city did routine water tests inside the restaurant following the break. Out of an abundance of caution, restaurant officials initially made the decision to close their doors for 24 hours. Zeller expected Sonic to reopen about noon Tuesday if water tests came back clear. Zeller stated that to the best of her knowledge, no other restaurants or businesses in the immediate area of Sonic were affected.
On Monday afternoon, Johnson stated he had been out of town all morning and was unaware of any major new water breaks in the city. Acting City Manager Sam Sutherland did not return a voicemail.
Late Monday afternoon, after speaking with Sutherland, Johnson said Sonic had its water restored by 1 p.m. Monday. City officials had cleared the restaurant to reopen so long as they boiled any water. Johnson said local store management told him they intended to consult with corporate officials about when they should reopen. He confirmed Zeller’s report that no other businesses had been affected.
The city’s water problems probably begin in earnest in on or about June 22 and stretched in earnest into early July, with water break after water break cutting off water service to residents and businesses alike, though no businesses had reported any closures due to water issues prior to Monday.
Just after the Independence Day holiday, both Johnson and Sutherland indicated the problems were largely under control, but the city was not out of the woods just yet. Johnson said further problems were quite likely as contractors continue to work on the 30-inch water line that runs along Offnere Street to Kinneys Lane to Sunrise and ultimately, the city reservoir.
According to Johnson, the city is not replacing the 30-inch diameter line running to the reservoir. Instead, using new technology, contractors are pumping a new liner inside the pipe. Cost of the work has been estimated at $4.5 million. Johnson said putting in a new liner instead of a new pipe is cheaper and far more efficient.
For example, the city does not need to tear up streets anywhere near as much as they would have otherwise
However, no matter how they work on the pipe, contractors still need to shut down that pipe as they do their jobs. With that line out of service, Sutherland said the water normally flowing through it needs to go somewhere. The result has been fluctuations in pressure in other lines, which also can become overloaded with pressures they really are not meant to handle. The result has been the numerous headline making water breaks springing up around Portsmouth.
Johnson specifically noted Monday’s break may or may not have been related to the liner work but may have been due to high water demand related to the recent heat.
On Monday, Johnson said several small leaks sprung up in the last week but added they were nowhere near the severity of earlier leaks and did not cause any major disruptions in water service.
Contractors have 180 days from the June 4 project start date to complete the work. Sutherland added workers have been able to continue putting in the new liner even as the city toiled to contain the water breaks. He does not believe contractors will need the full 180 days but added there is no way to know for sure.
Both Johnson and Sutherland said further water projects are more than possible in the future. Johnson especially again noted the advanced age of the city’s underground infrastructure. Sutherland estimated there are 200 miles of that infrastructure beneath Portsmouth. Johnson added he expects that eventually the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency will mandate completion of specific water projects.