Ruptured water main repaired overnight in Berkeley

January 3, 2012 5:48:27 PM PST
The latest water main to break in the East Bay is finally cleaned up after soaking a major part of downtown Berkeley Monday night, but it's going to be costly to replace.

Business owner Mike Gumbert showed us the basement of his 86-year-old building in Berkeley and the places where he is using sawdust to pick up the water from a pipeline break that he says came only inches from damaging costly equipment and expensive artwork.

"All of the other drain pipes and all of the other things leading in from the street, none of that's been done in years and years," said Gumbert. "I don't think it's ever been re-done since it was built."

The problem started Monday night when a six-inch break happened just before 5 p.m. and forced the cutoff of water for most businesses in the area. The cause of the break is still being investigated, but at its peak, Bancroft Way looked like a stream in the center of town.

"We all had water flowing in," said Gumbert.

This Berkeley water main break is only the most recent in a string of emergency water repairs for East Bay MUD -- on Dec. 17, a water main break in San Pablo, on the Dec. 27, a water main break in downtown Walnut Creek caused damage to a Crate & Barrel store, on Dec. 28, a break in San Leandro, and on New Year's Day, a water main break near the Hercules-Rodeo border, shut off service to two large industrial plants.

Crews have been working to repair the damage but are quick to point out that East Bay MUD's vast water distribution pipeline covers more than 4,200 miles, is decades old, and that breaking pipelines are to be expected.

"To replace just one mile of pipe is $5 million," said East Bay MUD spokesman Charles Hardy.

Hardy says that each year East Bay MUD replaces six to eight miles of pipe, and it's not until a pipe breaks that immediate problems are known and moved to the front of the repair priority line.

"Six to eight miles of pipe out of 4,200 miles of pipe is a very small fraction. So most of our effort has to go into quick response," said Hardy.

A quick response is necessary because the goal is to reduce the additional damage to the pipeline.