A water break in an aging, 20-foot section of six-inch PVC pipe cut water service to about two-thirds of Strawberry residents for 20 hours Sunday, Nov. 14.
The outage occurred less than two months after the Pine Strawberry Water Improvement District purchased the Pine and Strawberry Water Companies from Brooke Utilities.
During the often contentious negotiations process to acquire the two towns’ water systems, PSWID representatives argued vehemently that Brooke’s infrastructure was outdated, corroding and in need of major repairs.
Several water users in the tiny mountain hamlets say Saturday’s failure proves the allegations of substandard water systems were true.
PSWID District Manager Harry Jones estimates that a quick shutdown of the system minimized the loss of water at about 100,000 gallons.
PSWID board president Bill Haney said the obstacles district workers had to overcome in repairing the leak were “kind of the perfect storm of broken water mains.”
The leak was first reported at 3:30 a.m., but the series of bad breaks and setbacks delayed the return of water service until about midnight.
Jones said repairing the system was first delayed while local utility companies, including gas, electric, cable and communication, “Blue Staked” their underground facilities.
Arizona Damage Prevention laws, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and Arizona Corporation Commission rules require all utility owners to mark any lines that may conflict with ground digging to prevent costly damages and interruptions of services.
Also, Jones said, once the digging began, workers found the main located about eight feet below an abandoned culvert and under a roadway that had been raised several feet over the years.
Haney estimates the water line had probably been installed in the 1970s or ’80s and that the compacting of the raised roadway could have damaged it.
After uncovering the leak, hundreds of gallons of water had to be pumped out of the hole, and about 26 feet of failed pipe and fittings removed and replaced.
Jones said the repairs were rendered a tad less cumbersome when materials and spare parts needed were available at the PSWID warehouse and did not have to be special ordered.
Although the breakage turned into a challenge to find and repair, Jones said district employees handled it as quickly and efficiently as possible.
The outage might not be the last to occur in either Pine or Strawberry.
Jones speculates the aged and outdated pipe “will continue to fail over the years,” but “we hope to minimize future failures by aggressively moving forward with a decade-long replacement program.”
The PSWID board also has plans to install a series of isolation valves, which do not now exist. In the event of emergency, they could be shut off to stop leakage and conserve water.
The water district has a 24-hour emergency number — (928) 476-4222 — for reporting breaks and leakages.