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Boil advisory issued after water main fails, causing pressure woes

A loss in system pressure early Sunday is being blamed on a partially failed water main near the intersection of Railroad Avenue and Summit Drive in South Boston.

According to Halifax County Service Authority Executive Director Mark Estes, technicians were investigating a loss in system pressure early Sunday morning when they discovered water coming to the surface near Poplar Creek and the Railroad Avenue-Summit Drive intersection. 

The source was determined to be a 10-inch cast iron water main that was part of the original 1920 water system and connected the old Railroad Avenue Filter Plant to the Halifax Cotton Mill industrial site, Estes said. 

Access to the affected area was limited and in challenging terrain. Authority staff had to reduce the water pressure below 20 psi to approximately 34 residential customers on Summit Drive in order to make the repairs necessary to assure the safety and quality of the drinking water, Estes added. 

“Every customer was given instructions to boil their drinking water until we could restore service and perform the necessary water quality tests to assure the water was safe to drink,” the executive director said.

The boil water notice is in effect for 72 hours or until lab staff analysis of two consecutive 24-hour bacteriological samples confirms a disinfectant residual and the absence of any bacteria.

According to Estes, the break in the water main was located under an area that had been filled with porous material; concrete tailings, broken concrete masonry blocks, bricks and organic matter. Staff worked several hours trying to excavate the area to find the origin of the leak and did not have equipment that was large enough to remove the large concrete materials and had to employ a local contractor to assist using a large excavator. 

Once the leak was discovered, Estes said staff replaced a section of pipe that failed from stress caused by improper bedding and unsuitable fill material that had been placed over the water main. 

“We estimate a loss of 300,000 to 500,000 gallons of water from the failed line. Our Leigh Street filter plant operated continuously for the duration of the failure and to assure drinking and fire water reserves,” Estes said. 

The Service Authority is currently working with a consultant to develop and implement a strategic facilities plan to address the authority’s 110 miles of water lines through a logical process in which the evaluation, maintenance and ultimately the replacement of the older water lines that have reached their life cycle. 

The water main that failed is one of the lines the plan has identified, he added.

The lines will be managed through an established depreciation schedule where additional revenues generated from water sales will be reserved to address those water lines that have reached their useful life.  

“We have a significant number of water mains where the age and condition of the lines could not addressed by the localities before the formation of the authority,” Estes said. “We will strive to continue providing quality water that meets all applicable standards and at a reasonable cost while striving to satisfy the needs of both existing and future customers. We appreciate the patience of our customers who experienced an interruption of water service during this event.”