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“Things can’t get worse, right?”

by Prince Of Petworth January 11, 2016 at 1:10 pm 10 Comments

water
Photo by PoPville flickr user Jennifer

Update from DC Water:

“We’re connecting the final section of that block’s water main today at 5 p.m. and it will take approximately three hours to complete. Pressure should be restored to the building once the work is completed. The drop in pressure occurred because the building was at the end of a capped water line similar to a dead end which resulted in insufficient pressure running to the building. Once DC Water completes the tie-in and thereby, completing the “circuit,” pressure will be restored.

The drop in pressure was unanticipated. We have been doing quite a bit of work in the Adams Morgan neighborhood and we suspect that this building also suffered a water outage on Monday night when a contractor struck a water main.

This explanation is probably of little comfort to the residents that were inconvenienced. And for that, we apologize. We’re going to work with our teams to prevent situations like this won’t occur in the future.”

“Dear PoPville,

Writing this has helped me pass the time stuck managing a building without water for nearly the last day. No water main broken, minimal crew have been sent, countless complaints sent by me and residents, still awaiting resolution.

I know water infrastructure in this city is old and needs to be changed, but DC Water has shut off water or radically reduced pressure to the building I manage about half a dozen times without warning since they started working on replacing the main in our block. Their communication has been poor, service has been slow and the following tale is one of privileged woe, since at least I live in a place that has running water, the city doesn’t condemn it’s residents to get lead poisoning to save money (Flint, MI), and I can at least call a number where someone picks up to air my concerns. Here goes.

The first few times we lost water were short–20 minutes, an hour; annoying things to happen without warning, straining our hot water recirculation pumps, but not much else. Then they started digging out the main access points. This involves the delicate jackhammering toward an old-ass water pipe, with the idea that you stop jack-hammering before the pipe and dig out around it. We know where this is going–broken main, patched for a few hours, shut down that night for repairs. I get that–old pipes are basically half rust and you need to uncover them quickly, mistakes happen, etc. Except that night happened to be the coldest night of the winter so far and our boiler is steam-powered–without water, it could be damaged, so we get to hand out space heaters all afternoon to prep. Things can’t get worse, right?

But then they turned water back on, and a valve wasn’t adjusted. Sounds simple, but actually it guaranteed trickling showers for nearly 100 building occupants that morning. The fix was a turn of a long screwdriver that could have easily been done the night before. So now I’m overtired, chilly, frustrated with general incompetence, but it can’t get worse, right?

The next day, DC water’s contractor moves to the front of the building to uncover our section of main. We know where this is going, right? Jackhammer goes too deep, and crack goes the water main! We’re lucky though, this damage actually can be repaired within a few hours, and I get my first notice of a planned shutoff for the upcoming Friday night. I do all I can to prepare, make sure plenty of water is available, people are notified, space heaters get distributed, and even contact the project manager, DC Water’s valve division, and anyone I can find at DC water to note that we had a severe pressure issue the other day and the fix was simple. A valve needed to be turned. That valve should again be turned after the job on Friday night/Saturday morning. My foreshadowing should be enough for anyone to guess what happened next.

Saturday morning comes along with very low water pressure–I call immediately, explain the valve issue, request assistance, am told someone can be by in 2 1/2 hours. I’m miffed, but hey, I called at 5:30am. Most people won’t be up until after 8am, the fix should be quick, and we can get on with the weekend. 8:30am rolls around and I call again–another water main across town broke, took priority, and delayed repairs. I call every hour or so until 2pm when someone says they are outside checking valves. Huzzah! Things are looking up right?

I get a call soon thereafter saying they have fixed the issue and water should be back shortly. I don’t believe this until I can confirm, which I do by turning the tap–nothing. The woman on the line says to wait, since water may be coming slowly. Foolishly, I believe this. I call again a half hour after and ask to meet with the crew nearby to talk about the issue and can’t see where they might be–turns out they’re gone! Still no water in most of the building.

I’m writing this 13 hours after I first reported the issue and after I first mentioned the valve issue, which still is the issue. 21 hours since water was shutoff. They’ve come back three times since 3pm, each time missing just one crucial piece. I’ve had it. DC Water needs to communicate better with buildings, needs more technicians, needs faster service, better contractors, well-supplied vehicles and perhaps a dedicated point of contact for projects like this so I’m not relaying info from DC Water employees to each other to help them troubleshoot on what was supposed to be my day off. I keep saying we need infrastructure improvements to myself, quietly, as yet another problem presents itself, but I wish we could do so much better as a city. Please George Hawkins, you’re our only hope. Projects like this should be heralded, not dreaded. If we’re going to invest in a new main, invest in making sure installation isn’t such a nightmare. End of rant, time to take a cold show–nevermind.

Update: water pressure was slightly improved by 11pm Saturday night so residents could at least use toilets, but we had to organize lower floor showers for others without pressure through Sunday and today. Construction timetable also sped up a lot (possibly due to our complaints), with the final (3rd scheduled, 7th or 8th overall) water shutoff and final main hookup scheduled tonight. Third time is hopefully the charm?”

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