BY MARCY SHORTUSE – Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink. That old saying was very apt last week and this week, as Boca Grande residents and business owners experienced an abrupt loss of water in two separate incidents.
Water service was interrupted for all but the north end of the island from the morning of Thursday, Aug. 6 until the following Saturday, Aug. 8. According to Gasparilla Island Water Association Director Bonnie Pringle, it all started with a small section of sewer pipe that receives the sewage from a very large part of the south end of the island and downtown that needed to be lined, if possible, or replaced. It was located near the Boca Grande Community Center, at the intersection of Park Avenue and 1st Street.
“In order to line the pipe, it had to be cleaned well with high-pressure water,” Pringle said. “When that was done, the pipe actually was so bad it simply collapsed. This put us in emergency mode because we then had to manually (using pumper trucks) pump sewage to sewer pump stations, and then we had to dig quite deep to replace the section.”
Pringle said some of GIWA’s water mains are old saltwater fire lines that were donated to GIWA many years ago and converted to potable water mains. While they are on the plans that GIWA uses to locate what is underground when they go to dig, the plans show the fire line in that area dead end at a hydrant on the southwest side of the Community Center. It does not. Instead it continues diagonal across Park Avenue and runs up 1st Street, where it connects to the fire lines running to the south end of the island.
“Since we did not realize the water main was there, the contractor began digging with a backhoe and hit the main,” Pringle said. “Had we known it was there, digging would have been by hand until it was uncovered, then we would have done some careful digging with a backhoe.”
Pringle said it took awhile to ascertain which main had been hit, and how to turn it off. With an increased flow leaving GIWA’s pump station of about 500 gallons per minute.
The moment the damage occurred, and after realizing they had reached a point when a significant amount of that water was entering the sewer system that they were manually pumping, Pringle said they knew it was time to turn the pumps off altogether.
“We were afraid we would not be able to keep up, and water is very destructive,” she said. “Erosion under the road and around our manholes was occurring, we decided it was time to turn our pumps off to prevent another disaster.”
Pringle said they used GIWA’s “Code Red” emergency notification system to notify everyone on the island about a precautionary boil water notice.
This is a requirement that GIWA follows closely every time water pressure drops below 20 pounds per square inch (normal is 60 psi). Residents and business owners were instructed to boil water until samples could be collected to ensure no contamination occurred as a result of the loss in pressure. Pringle said it does not always mean that contamination has occurred, it just means the possibility exists.
The water main was repaired that day using a repair band. During repairs, once water was cleared from the hole and the main was exposed, GIWA workers were able to see its true location, realized it appeared to be in line with the hydrant at the Community Center, and were able to determine it must be a part of the old fire system. Pringle said the repair did leak slightly overnight, but it was remedied. She also said the brick pavers should be set back in Boca Bay’s walkway entrance this week, but paving is not scheduled to be completed until next week.
“We viewed this as a bit of a blessing, because we were able to shut that section down, remove the damaged water main section, dig deeper, replace the sewer line, then complete a much better repair of the water main,” Pringle said.
Water samples were collected on Thursday and Friday, and Pringle was at her desk on Saturday morning waiting for the results. When she found out around late morning that the island’s water had passed bacterial analysis inspection, she once again used the Code Red system to inform everyone that notice was lifted.
On Tuesday, Aug. 11, another relatively severe water main break occurred on the north end of the island when a contractor hit an 8-inch water main. Pringle said the number of residents affected by that break was much smaller, but it was a much harder repair.
“We had to call in a contractor to de-water the ground using pumps to even get to the pipe,” she said. “Some people were out of water for most of the day.”
Pringle said while it was an incredibly busy week for GIWA, she tries to find the good in all situations.
“We now have that water main on our drawings, so we know it is there and where to turn it off,” she said. “Also, we managed to get more people signed up for the Code Red emergency notification system.”
If you are a GIWA customer who has not yet signed up for the Code Red system, call 964-2423. You can be notified via several alternative forms of communication when there are water issues at your property.