NORTH ADAMS — For a second consecutive day, city maintenance crews worked into the evening to repair a leak in one of the city's primary water mains.
"You see that pipe right there? That's 140 years old," Commissioner of Public Services Tim Lescarbeau said, pointing to a 24-inch cast iron pipe exposed by the trench dug into River Street to access it.
Since the main, which extends to the Williamstown line, was installed in 1882, it's never had a break, Lescarbeau said. But temperature changes, it seems, loosened a lead joint, letting the water rush out. He told iBerkshires.com that since the leak began, the main was losing 100 gallons an hour, and up to 1,000 gallons per hour at its peak.
Crews had to cut a dump truck-size rectangle through the pavement of River Street on Wednesday, blocking off the section of the road between the intersection of Houghton and Marshall streets and Holden Street, as they continued to investigate the cause of the situation and make repairs. For safety reasons, the hole was refilled overnight, and excavated again on Thursday.
The leak began around 6 a.m. Wednesday, and over the course of the past two days has gone on to affect service for at least a mile or so in either direction, including areas of higher elevation. The Church Street area was affected and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts subsequently canceled Thursday day and evening classes. Water service was also turned off at Colegrove Park Elementary School out of precaution. Classes that were scheduled onsite at Colegrove on Thursday were held remotely instead.
Classes at both schools were expected to resume as scheduled on Friday.
In a Thursday morning Facebook post, Mayor Thomas Bernard wrote: "This has been an especially challenging water break for our Public Services team, and I know it has been a frustrating situation for people throughout the city. What seemed like a significant, but straightforward, break and repair incident has had widespread effects in areas throughout the city. The water department's work has turned into a combination of an archeological dig and scavenger hunt to isolate and contain the service outage and repair and restore service."
The struggle was in locating and accessing the water main shut off, made more difficult by the fact that as repairs were made and installations added over the years, city schematics weren't always kept up to date.
Lescarbeau said he hopes this latest leak, among several in recent years, will prompt city officials to take a closer look at assessing needed repairs and upgrades.
"Forty years of deferred maintenance will get you something like this," the public works commissioner said.
Instead of using one main shut-off valve, Lescarbeau and his crews identified and shut some 30 gate valves in the city's system to cut off flow into the main until the joint could be refitted and sealed.
In an alert sent out to residents just before 4 p.m. on Thursday, City Hall said that the public works and fire departments established a bypass line to restore service to residents on Church Street and surrounding neighborhoods. Residents north of River Street endured a longer wait for the return of running water due to its proximity to the repair site. Because of discolored water resulting from the repairs and hydrant flushing, City Hall advised residents to let the water run until it clears, and recommended that anyone who lost service to boil their water before drinking it for "the next 12 hours" after restoration.
The city also reported it was working with Berkshire Health Systems to set up a drinking water filling station on its Northern Berkshire campus.
The mayor told The Eagle on Thursday evening that members of the city's public safety departments, retired and veteran water department workers, as well as health inspectors were brought together to discuss the situation and the impacts. The incident occurred as Berkshire County has faced drought conditions and a watch for fire conditions, so the aforementioned departments are keeping a close watch as the situation develops.
Bernard also thanked the people living and working in North Adams for their patience on this issue. He acknowledged that some constituents were frustrated that the city didn't make a CodeRED announcement about the water main break until nearly 14 hours after it was first discovered.
"We know we need to tighten communications to get the word out faster," he said.
At around 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, the public works commissioner said that once the repair was made, it would take crews another 4 to 5 hours to turn the gates back on.
"I'm fairly certain we'll see the sun come up," Lescarbeau said of the impending workload. "But I've got the best guys in the world."