Problem water pipe to be replaced in spring; more breaks expected
A nearly 50-year-old water- line that broke twice earlier this week ruptured again in spectacular fashion Thursday, sending water, rocks and other debris gushing into the air above a Grand Junction neighborhood. It flooded at least one home and left several others without water for hours.
The break occurred in a type of pipe the city is gradually replacing but, in the meantime, has caused damage and plenty of headaches for local businesses and residents.
City Utility Engineer Bret Guillory acknowledged that more city waterlines likely will fracture this year.
“There’s a likelihood that in the (next) two months, as temperatures warm and cool, that we’re going to have more main-line breaks,” he said. “That’s just the nature of the beast.”
The 6-inch cast-iron line breached about 10 a.m. on 28 1/2 Road near Bunting Avenue, and the result looked like a geyser.
Paul Liebe Sr., who lives at 519 28 1/2 Road, said he heard an explosion and watched rocks, asphalt and water shoot up to 100 feet high. Rocks landed on the roof of his home and on top of the nearby two-story Villa San Marcos apartments.
A neighbor in a downstairs apartment there whose home had been flooded Monday still had crews working to help ventilate the home’s moisture when the line broke again Thursday, Liebe said.
“Her couch was even soaking wet,” he said.
Half of Liebe’s front yard looked like a small lake as city crews and a private contractor worked to suck water from the line and begin to repair it.
The explosion left a 5-foot gap in the street, which was closed to through traffic. The 20-unit apartment complex and 12 homes were without water until the line was repaired late Thursday.
That same line broke twice Monday. The second break occurred before city crews left the work site upon repairing the first break.
Guillory said Thursday’s break was so visually dramatic because only loose rock material had been placed on top of the repaired pipe.
“That pressurized water finds the path of least resistance, and that was straight up,” he said.
He said crews usually place 4 to 5 feet of compacted material on top of a repaired line, then cover the material with asphalt. They planned to pave over the area that had been dug up but were unable to do so immediately because of the cold weather.
The 28 1/2 Road line, which was installed in 1960, makes up a fraction of 25 miles of cast-iron water pipe that run underneath city streets, Guillory said. There are roughly 135 miles of waterline within the city’s system, and the city works every year toward replacing the cast-iron pipe with PVC pipe, he said.
The city also has had trouble with a 12-inch cast-iron line along the west end of North Avenue that has split at least nine times since 2002, according to city officials.
Both of those lines, as well as a third on Patterson Road, are scheduled to be replaced next spring in a $3.8 million project. All together, about six and one-half miles of new pipe will be installed.
“This has been overdue for years,” Liebe said of replacing the 28 1/2 Road line.
Guillory said the cast-iron pipes break not only because they’re brittle, but also because of sudden changes in temperature.
“When you have the temperature drop like it did — very abruptly, rather than gradually — it causes shifts in the ground,” he said. “If there’s a weak spot in the line, then it shows up when that ground moves.”
He said the city sees an average of 30 to 40 waterline breaks each year, with the majority happening in the cold-weather months. So far this year, it’s had 18.