Water gushes, after cap pops on Foster Road

Here’s what caused the traffic to slow down at the western foot of SE Foster Road – and why it will take a month to fully fix the problem …

Although August 17th was a warm day, this pool of water, bubbling up from a Portland Water Bureau main deep below along SE Foster Road, didn’t look all that inviting.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
The muddy, rusty-colored water bubbled and gushed from the pavement of SE Foster Road at SE Lafayette Street on Wednesday, August 17. It stopped traffic and turned heads during the afternoon.

Portland Water Bureau (PWB) workers cordoned off the area at about 1:30 p.m., when workers at the US Post Office’s Creston Station notified Portland Fire & Rescue that water was flooding the intersection which some mistakenly call SE 51st Avenue, because the one street east of it is SE 52nd Avenue.

While a crew member “throttles down” the water pressure in the line, others keep an eye on the damage the gushing water is causing to the street.

But, before PWB crews could dig to find the problem, underground utility locaters first had to arrive and mark out lines to prevent disruption in other buried services.

“They first began a ‘throttle down’ process of the water main, so they could get a sense of the leak, and ascertain the problem,” explained PWB spokesman Jimmy Brown.

Not just seeping – Bull Run water comes gushing up from the Foster Road pavement.

“When they excavated the area, they found a cast-iron pipe that had been in the ground since 1922,” Brown told us. “At first, workers believed the pipe had split.”

But, upon further investigation, Brown said the leak that sent water gushing through the asphalt surface of Foster Road was the result of a lead cap, or plug, popping off a T-section of pipe.

“It wasn’t atypical; we do have some very old piping here in Portland,” Brown observed. “We anticipated we’d have it repaired by 8:00 p.m.; the challenge was that we had to replace two pieces.”

Working into the evening, PWB workers uncover the real reason for the leak that sent thousands of gallons of water into sewers along Foster Road.

Whenever PWB crews make an in-street repair and find lead pipe or parts, Brown said, they have to be replaced with appropriate materials – in this case, ductile steel parts.

“The final repair will take about four weeks,” Brown pointed out. “Our crew put a concrete casing back in the hole; then backfilled. After that has settled, crew PDOT road crew will return to repave the affected area. We believe there may be some sidewalk repair needed, also.”

Although the pipe was old, what actually broke was an “end cap” on a “water line T-junction” below the street, officials say.

Compared to cities like Houston, Brown concluded, Portland’s system is relatively trouble-free. “Houston has had as many as 700 water main breaks in a single day – due to the weather.”

© 2011 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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