Officials in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said a temporary fix has water running again after a main break left an estimated 220,000 customers without service Thursday.
Water was flowing below normal pressure and was expected to return to “near normal” sometime Thursday night, Mayor Dean Trantalis said in an evening news conference.
A subcontractor repairing electric lines Wednesday struck a pipe that supplies water to a treatment plant, cutting off the city’s water supply. No major incidents were reported as a result of the outage, the mayor said.
A partial patch was placed on the hole, increasing water pressure, Trantalis said.
Those involved in the repairs are “confident” that the patch will provide “temporary relief” while crews work to redirect the water flow through a backup line and replace the broken pipe, he said.
The installation could take through the weekend, Trantalis said.
While repairs are underway, a boil water advisory is in effect until and water distribution sites will stay open until at least Saturday, Trantalis said.
With repairs underway, he said the city’s focus will shift to investigating the cause and seeking compensation for not only the city but hotels, restaurants and other businesses impacted by the service outage.
“This was not just a minor incident, this impacted many hundreds of thousands of hundreds of people,” Trantalis said.
“It was clearly haphazard,” he said. “It’s clearly something that we’re going to seek retribution for.”
What the city is doing to fix the pipe
On Wednesday, a subcontractor working near the city’s Executive Airport for Florida Power & Light damaged a 42-inch city pipe that supplies water from wellfields to the Fiveash Water Treatment Plant, the mayor said.
The service outage impacted the city and surrounding municipalities that receive water through the city, including Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Oakland Park, Wilton Manors and sections of Davie and Tamarac.
An estimated 220,000 customers were impacted, Deputy City Manager Rob Hernandez.
Crews are now building a concrete bunker around the broken pipe to seal the break and protect the pipe, Trantalis said. The bunker should be completed by 10 p.m. ET and the Fiveash Water Treatment Plant should be back to full and normal operation, he said.
The temporary fix will give crews time to redirect the water flow through a backup line, Trantalis said. Once the backup line is in place, a replacement pipe for the primary main will be installed, likely over the course of the weekend, the mayor said.
Cause of outage under investigation
Earlier Thursday, Trantalis said crews responded immediately, but as they were working, the damaged pipe collapsed, forcing the city to turn off the water flow.
During Thursday night’s news conference, he suggested the subcontractor bore the brunt of the blame for “something they should not have done.”
The subcontractor has been cited and an enforcement action has been launched, the mayor said, although he was unable to identify the specific citation.
When initially asked if there was anything the city could have done better, the mayor responded “no,” then added, “Yes — we could have foreseen this but you can’t foresee these types of things.”
Later in the press conference, the mayor maintained the incident an “accident” caused by “human error,” but he also acknowledged that it put a spotlight on the city’s redundancy systems.
Deputy City Manager Rob Hernandez said “difficulty” with at least one valve that was supposed to redirect water to the redundant system, leaving them unable to isolate the damaged section of pipe.
“What [this] pointed out to us is that we need to pay more attention to our infrastructure needs and that we need to go back and make sure that these redundancies systems do work when they’re supposed to work.”
Residents in need of bottled water can find it at the Beach Community Center on 33rd Avenue, Mills Pond Park on Northwest 9th Avenue and Riverland Park on Southwest 27th Avenue.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect address for a bottled water pickup.