- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 15, 2009

D.C. officials said Wednesday they will deploy special road crews during the extended inauguration weekend to fix broken water mains after two in the past three days have snarled already barricaded-and-detoured downtown streets in one location.

Beginning Saturday, the District’s Water and Sewer Authority will deploy its crews all over the city in the event of a water-main break that could severely disrupt the inaugural parade and make travel in the area even more difficult than expected because of widespread massive street closures and restrictions.

In addition, the water authority has arranged for outside contractors to be on call throughout the weekend in case of an emergency.

“Our biggest concern is getting around,” said Michele Quander-Collins, a spokeswoman for the water authority, which provides drinking water and wastewater treatment for the District and surrounding Maryland and Virginia suburbs. “We will have water crews in some of our strategic facilities, but transportation is going to be the biggest challenge for us.”

Water authority crews typically can respond to a water-main break within 45 minutes. But Ms. Quander-Collins cautioned motorists and pedestrians who will be on hand for inaugural activities this weekend that response time could be much slower because of traffic and crowds.

The Secret Service is also closing major parts of the city before the inauguration as a security measure, making getting around even more of a problem.

“We hope the customers understand they may have some delay,” said Ms. Quander-Collins, referring to the possibility of a water-main break during the inauguration.

On Wednesday, an 8-inch water main broke on the west side of Seventh Street Northwest between G and H streets, forcing officials to close the road. The break was noticed when a truck slipped on the ice that had formed on the road. The main was fixed late Wednesday and the road was reopened.

On Sunday, a similar break closed down a portion of 16th Street Northwest not far from the Hay-Adams Hotel, where streets are already barricaded because President-elect Barack Obama and his family are staying there.

In December, the water authority struggled with a break in a 60-inch water main in Bethesda that stranded a dozen motorists and required dramatic air and water rescues that made national headlines.

Winter is generally the worst season for pipes as fluctuating temperatures and above-ground vibrations cause the aging underground mains to crack and leak.

Some breaks are worse than others. Circular breaks can be fixed more quickly than a lengthwise crack.

So far this winter there have been about 114 water main breaks, including this week’s breaks and the December break on River Road, which is about normal for this time of year. On average, there are about 430 water main breaks per year, according to the water authority.

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