On Friday, February 26th, many of us woke up to discover we had no water, muddy-looking water or low water pressure. Turning on the taps produced a trickle, or nothing at all.
Thanks to Emanuel Briggs of DC Water, we now know why.
The story begins on Tuesday, February 23rd on Linnean Avenue. On that day, the water was out for some neighbors in the immediate vicinity of DC Water’s ongoing water main replacement project in Forest Hills. This was a planned outage. Residents on Linnean between Davenport and Chesterfield Streets had received notice that their water would be shut off while DC Water’s contractor worked to tie newly installed water mains into the system.
The following day, DC Water began to receive complaints about discolored water, low water pressure and loss of water service from residents on and near Davenport Street. One neighbor told us her water was muddy and undrinkable. DC Water sent a team to flush the water lines.
However, complaints continued to pour in. On Thursday, February 25th, DC Water sent another team to investigate further. They determined that the water lines needed more intensive flushing to wash away sediment that had been disturbed during Tuesday’s work, as it was the cause of the muddy-looking water. They also discovered the source of the low- and no-water problems: a defective 12-inch water shutoff valve at 32nd and Davenport Streets.
That evening, DC Water emailed some residents and local officials to alert them that the valve replacement would begin at 4 a.m. on Friday. And its crew began to prepare by shutting off water to that section of the water main. But as they worked, they found problems with more shutoff valves. Briggs explained that as the crew tried to find a valve that was in good working order, the water shutoff impacted a larger and larger area.
Not everyone got the word, and not everyone who did understood what was going on. One Connecticut Avenue apartment building manager got the impression that a water main break on Davenport Street was the cause.
Briggs said on the 26th that water to these eight mains was temporarily shut off:
• 8-inch main on 32nd Street, between Ellicott Street and Chesapeake Street
• 8-inch main on 36th Street, between Everett Street and Fessenden Street
• 8-inch main on Reno Road, between Davenport Street and Fessenden Street
• 24-inch main on Connecticut Avenue, between Nebraska Avenue and Chesapeake Street
• 12-inch main on 4800 block of Connecticut Avenue
• 8-inch main on Ellicott Street, between Connecticut Avenue and Reno Road
• 12-inch main on Davenport Street, between 32nd Street and 30th Street
• 8-inch main on Connecticut Avenue, between Everett Street and Davenport Street
Residents of the wider area noticed low water pressure.
The work to replace the defective valve at 32nd and Davenport began at 4 a.m. on Friday, February 26th. Later that morning, crews opened fire hydrants in order to flush the system. On Connecticut Avenue, water jumped the curb and flooded sidewalks. And by noon, water service was restored to the affected areas.
Briggs says it is likely that the Tuesday water main replacement work contributed to the valve issue.
“[T]here are often underlying issues such as these that become exacerbated once we dig into the ground and begin to work on old pipes,” Briggs wrote in an email. “[D]isturbing the pipes could also cause an already defective piece of infrastructure… to become problematic.”
Because of that, he said, more unexpected outages are possible as DC Water moves on to other segments of the water main replacement project, which is scheduled to continue until March 2022.
Emanuel Briggs, by the way, is working two jobs. He manages community outreach for DC Water’s Office of Marketing and Communication, and at the same time is covering for the vacant Construction Outreach Coordinator position. Residents should report any outages or other problems to the DC Water’s Command Center (202-612-3400, [email protected]). Briggs also invites us to email him ([email protected]) if residents cannot get through or get their questions answered.