- - Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Prince George’s County averted a crisis when it was announced Wednesday that water would not be shut off for as many as 200,000 residents, leaving businesses, restaurants and hotels scrambling to reopen after preparing for multiday closures. 

Water flow through a failing main was set to be turned off at 9 p.m. Tuesday, and the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission had warned it might not return for up to five days while workers removed and replaced a 54-inch concrete water main that runs underground at Suitland Parkway and Forestville Road. But early Wednesday afternoon, WSSC officials announced that workers had fixed a stubborn valve that allowed them to divert water around the troubled pipe, avoiding the unusual outage threat.

“This is not something that has happened in the region, where you lose water,” County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said. 

Businesses were closed Wednesday and prepared for a bad week. But many in the affected area, which included the massive National Harbor complex, settled back into routine after planning for the worst. Most said they would reopen Thursday.

Five hotels at National Harbor had begun to empty when they received word of the repairs, National Harbor spokeswoman Amanda Sweeney said. At least one convention moved and hundreds of visitors checked out and took shuttle buses to other hotels. Most restaurants and stores also closed at National Harbor and throughout the affected area. Summer camps had relocated their campers to other areas.

The Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center sent its staff home Wednesday but planned to reopen Thursday morning, spokeswoman Amie Gorrell said.

While some restaurants planned to open for dinner Wednesday night, “We expect National Harbor to be back at full-speed with our retail shops, restaurants and other activities by Thursday,” said Kent Digby, senior vice president and director of operations for National Harbor

On Tuesday night, workers fixed and closed a key valve near the failing pipe, greatly reducing the amount of pipeline that had to be shut down for repairs. Unable to close the valve earlier, crews refocused their efforts on another valve farther away, prompting the warnings of a large outage in portions of Prince George’s County. After the nearer valve was closed, workers were able to isolate the pipe and begin repairs Wednesday morning.

Officials said the pipe could be repaired and that full service could resume in two to three days without customers losing water, barring unexpected developments.

“If we continue to conserve, I am confident the system will remain full while we complete repairs,” said Jerry N. Johnson, WSSC’s general manager.

Mr. Baker said officials became aware only Wednesday morning of the possibility they could repair the valve without shutting off the water, although he said they would have taken the same precautions had they known earlier. 

Even with the valve repair, Mr. Baker said mandatory restrictions on water use were still in place. Among them, residents are urged not to water lawns, wash cars or top off swimming pools. They are also directed not to flush toilets after every use, not to take long showers, leave faucets running or use washing machines and dishwashers.

Roozen Nursery and Garden Centers in Fort Washington had prepared for the outage by filling koi ponds with water for its plants, which owner Eric Roozen said it is “keeping on standby now just in case.” 

He added that the nursery will continue watering its plants normally despite officials’ urging to conserve water.


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