CONYERS -- A recap of a Rockdale County water main break at Sigman Road and Ga. Highway 138 last weekend revealed the extensive effort needed to repair the break and steps that will need to be taken to address similar emergencies in the future.
Rockdale Water Resources Director Dwight Wicks and Deputy Director Terrell Gibbs told the Rockdale Water and Sewerage Authority on Thursday that the water line break last Friday turned into an all-hands-on-deck scenario, with personnel from the Rockdale County Sheriff's Office, Rockdale Department of Transportation, Conyers Police Department, Rockdale Fire and Rescue and private contractors stepping in to help the water department deal with the emergency.
Wicks and Gibbs also said the water line, which was broken when a Georgia Department of Transportation contractor drilled into it while installing fiber optic cable, wasn't shown as an active line on any maps that RWR could find.
In fact, Gibbs said, the 16-inch main was buried underneath the Ga. Highway 138 median, which made it that much harder for workers to reach. The line was apparently installed when the city of Conyers owned the water system and the state Department of Transportation widened the highway over the water line. Then, sometime between 2001 and 2004, after the county acquired the system, another 16-inch line was installed in the eastern right of way. At that point, Gibbs said, the line under the roadway should have been abandoned, but it wasn't.
Another complication in repairing the water main break, which Gibbs described as the size of a softball, arose when workers were unable to find the correct valves to turn off water in the line. Gibbs said many valve covers in the roadway have been paved over and workers had to locate them and then jackhammer them open to see if they could stop the water flow. They were able to slow the flow of water in the line but not stop it.
"We step by step went up (Ga. Highway) 138 and down 138 as far down as I-20 and along Iris Drive to shut off valves, hoping we could actually isolate the stretch of pipe we needed to work on," Gibbs said. "Nothing worked."
Without being able to shut off the flow of water, Wicks said RWR employees were forced to work try to make repairs with the water flowing, which means they were working against the water pressure and in a work site that was being undermined by the water flow.
Because the 16-inch line is an unusual size in the system, Wicks said RWR didn't have a sleeve in stock to clamp the line. They acquired a sleeve from a neighboring county, but once it was installed it wouldn't stand up to the water pressure, he said.
In addition, because there was so much water gushing into the work site, RWR's one pump couldn't keep up and a rental pump had to be brought in.
Because water pressure was reduced in the system, Wicks said a pumper truck was brought in from the Walton County Fire Department to assist in case of a fire in the area of the county affected by low pressure.
With water pressure in the system low, Wicks said RWR's emergency response plan went into effect. Gibbs notified the state Environmental Protection Division of the low pressure in the early morning hours Saturday, and the protocol set up by EPD went into effect. RWR initiated its emergency response plan, and later that morning, residents in the affected part of the county were notified by the county's reverse 911 system, through the media and by Internet that a boil water advisory was in effect.
Due to concerns over the safety of RWR workers, a contractor from Newnan was ultimately called in and an industrial-sized sleeve was put on the main break, stopping the leak at about 8 a.m. Saturday, Gibbs said.
Gibbs and Wicks said the emergency highlighted some problems that will need to be addressed and which will require funding.
Gibbs said RWR will need to be more proactive when roadwork is under way to make sure that valve covers are raised and not paved over.
"We have our work cut out for us in terms of finding these valves and determining which ones are active and which ones are not," he said.
In addition, Wicks said RWR will need to locate the covered valves and begin a regular valve-exercising program. RWR will also need to purchase additional clamps for all sizes of water lines in the system and an additional pump.
"There will be some capital requests coming out of all this," he said, noting that if RWR had had the resources at hand, it would have been able to respond quicker and mitigate the impact to the system and customers.
Wicks said the total cost of repairing the main break -- and who will be responsible for it -- are yet to be determined. He said roadway repairs cost about $17,000 and estimated that with equipment and overtime costs, the total would be somewhere between $30,000 and $50,000.
Wick said RWR would research which party is financially liable.
"We are going to pursue (the DOT contractor) paying for it," Wicks said. "It goes back to responsibility for this line and when it was put in. Why was it left under the road? It shouldn't have been left under the road, but not only was it left under the road, it was left under the road live."
Wicks praised the efforts of the county departments that came to RWR's aid, noting that firefighters helped operate the pumps, Rockdale DOT prepared signs and brought pavement-cutting equipment, the CPD directed traffic and the RCSO set up portable lights so they could work through the night.
He also expressed appreciation to the county's Public Affairs and Innovative Programs Department.
"Hats off to public relations director Tonya Parker, who worked over the weekend with us to get the boil water notice out to the media," he said.
At the close of the Water Authority meeting, member David Shipp made a motion to commend and thank RWR workers and staff and others who worked to repair the water main break. The motion was approved unanimously.