ESCANABA — Water main breaks in Escanaba have become more frequent recently as the city deals with a water system plagued by aging infrastructure and damage caused by extremely cold winters.
But none of the breaks reached the severity of what happened Thursday.
Water Wastewater Superintendent Jeff Lampi said the city came close to losing its water system as a break by the Delta Plaza Mall spilled a million gallons of water onto city streets.
The city asked residents to limit water usage while city crews quickly addressed the break and made sure that water continued to flow to prevent a water system shutdown and mandatory boil order.
“We lost most of the water in our south water tower and it became critical to keep the system pressure. So we increased out pumpage, asked the customers throughout the city to not use water and luckily after several hours we were able to dig through a couple of feet of water, shut it down and do the repairs in the afternoon,” Lampi said during a press conference on Friday.
The break was discovered by a city worker snowplowing at 5 a.m. Thursday. North Lincoln Road was closed from 1st Avenue South to 3rd Avenue North as crews searched for the source of the leak.
“Our problem was a lot of the valves were under water, under snow and froze up. So we had a lot of issues closing those down,” Lampi said.
Lampi said they had to make a decision quickly on how they were going to respond to a rapid loss of water. He went to the water plant at 5:30 a.m. to assess the situation.
“We had to make a decision if we were going to shut the city down and go on a boil advisory,” he said.
Instead, the water plant doubled its water production to stay ahead of the water loss and the city asked residents to limit water use. If the water system’s pressure fell to 20 psi, Lampi said it would have triggered a citywide boil advisory.
What made this water break more severe, Lampi said, was the weather, the large size of the pipe and closeness to the water tower.
“Our water tower took the brunt of the hit and we had more water on the street than normal,” he said.
The water main break closed the major intersection in town affecting a large amount of traffic. It also affected a large number of businesses within the four block area that was closed off.
Lampi warned that the city will face more water main breaks.
“This will happen again. Hopefully not to this extent,” he said. “Cold weather and the volume of water made it really difficult.”