- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 27, 2004

The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority is using private construction and utilities companies to verify the material of the water lines at about 300 different Ward 5 homes within a six-block radius straddling Northeast and Northwest.

Wherever it is confirmed that a house has lead pipes, the city is replacing the service line.

The District tore up the pavement on the 100 block of Todd Place Northeast last week, replacing several pipes there with new copper service lines.

“They [the workmen] haven’t told us anything. They just showed up two weeks ago and asked where our water meter was,” said James Harris, who lives on the street. “I told them it was probably in front of the house, where water meters usually are.”

Private contractors used a $35,000 “sawcutter” with a three-foot blade to rip a 6x6 hole down the middle of Todd Place on Wednesday. Water mains are typically located in the center of every city street.

Mr. Harris said he had been picking up water bottles from the city, and said he “wouldn’t mind” being told what the city is doing.

“I wasn’t told they would replace our pipes,” he said. “We haven’t received a letter.”

Todd Place will be turned over to WASA inspectors, who will make sure the site complies with federal regulations. Then another private contractor — C&S; Construction — will replace the pipes leading from the main line to the water meters of each lead-pipe fed house.

Michael Means, a C&S; foreman who also has been testing the water lines, said his company is paid for every foot of pipe it replaces.

He said Utility Quest, another private contractor, marks the water, gas and electric lines with colored chalk before testing — and then marks them again before sawcutting — on each street.

“The testing part is tricky,” Mr. Means said. “If it’s just a copper line, we don’t want to disturb people’s gardens too much. Old women are very particular about their gardens.”

Mr. Means and a six-man crew using shovels and a single Caterpillar, spent Tuesday morning “test pitting” a block on nearby 1st Street Northwest.

“We can’t use the Caterpillar for every hole because of the gas lines,” he said. “Shovels are the safest thing.”

Street sweepers, dump trucks and various other vehicles whizzed up and down the street as local residents occasionally watched the testing from their windows. Workmen spent hours digging between the street and sidewalk, sometimes standing in holes up to their necks before identifying a particular pipe.

One workman, who didn’t want to be identified, spent 1 hours digging himself into a 4-foot hole before discovering the pipes were made of lead.

“This hole is crazy,” he said as a TV news van parked nearby. “I know this is big news. There’ll probably be some big lawsuits.”

Mr. Means said every hole is different.

“I could find three or four different types of pipe in one hole,” he said. “Galvanized, lead, copper — people just leave everything in there over the years.”

Last year, Mr. Means said, the whole process of testing and replacing pipes was delayed on several occasions because WASA gave its contractors a list of 200 homes spread throughout the District.

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