More than 200K in Washington, D.C. Area Forced to Cut Water Use

Hundreds of thousands of people in suburban Washington who are sweating through a punishing heat wave are under orders to avoid long showers, turn off sprinklers and think twice about flushing the toilet.

The reason for the restrictions: urgent repairs to a nearly 50-year-old water main in Prince George?s County that authorities said was in danger of exploding. More than 200,000 residents and businesses in the county are under mandatory water restrictions, possibly for days, while temperatures are expected to climb into the 90s.

The warning to the public first came late Monday night, giving people about 24 hours to stock up on bottled water and prepare for days without washing clothes or dishes.

Still, things could have been worse. Officials initially warned that faucets could run dry for several days during the repairs. But on Wednesday, officials said they were able to divert enough water to keep it flowing. They said the water main should be back in service in two or three days if nothing unexpected happens.

?If we continue to conserve we’re confident that the system will remain full while we complete the repairs on the pipe and return it to service,? said Jerry N. Johnson, general manager of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission.

Johnson said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon that a fiber-optic detection system found 37 cracks in the nearly 50-year-old concrete main in a period of four to five days. Had the 4 1/2-ft main not been shut down, it would have exploded, possibly creating a large crater, Johnson said. The concrete pipe was installed around 1965.

Crews were able to avoid shutting off water to residents because they were able to close a large valve nearby. The valve had faulty gears that had to be modified in order to work properly, Johnson said.

Residents were told to postpone using dishwashers and washing machines, to limit the flushing of toilets and to take short showers.

Johnson defended the commission’s decision to warn people they would be without water because he said it didn’t become apparent until late Wednesday morning that a work-around was possible.
?We know that businesses had to shut down. We caused some angst,? Johnson said. ?But we’re very pleased that it ended up this way as opposed to the pipe blowing out or having to shut it down and having people without water.?

–The information in this news update was?first?reported by The Associated Press/AP Online.

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