Waterline Repair Crews Work Wet, Cold, Day & Night to Keep Water Flowing for Tulsans

At 1 o’clock in the morning Friday, when a large waterline ruptured and water was pouring into the street at 31st and South Lewis, repair crews were having difficulty finding the valve to shut off the water so that a repair could be made.

To prevent making icy road hazards even worse, the repair crew entered the excavation and attached a collar to stop the leak, even as pressurized water continued to flow from the leak and make it difficult to see or feel what to do. Normally the water would be shut off at a nearby valve before the repairs are attempted. But when finding the right valve slows down the work, crews sometimes “suck it up and get the job done,” even when temperatures are far below freezing and most Tulsans and other city employees are home safe and warm in their beds, said Water Distribution Supervisor John Richardson. Crews are trained in safe procedures and techniques. But they sometimes disregard comfort in an effort to make repairs. Waterline repair crews can be called any time, day or night, Richardson said. Crews are on duty from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m., Monday though Friday. Crews are on duty from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekends. But around the clock, weekends and holidays included, the water emergency line (596-9488) is open and emergency responders are available to take action and summon crews that are on-call. The crews typically repair four to six waterline breaks or leaks each day. But when winter temperatures fall far below freezing, that almost always triggers a sharp rise in the number of breaks. Some 66 breaks have been reported and repaired since Monday, as area temperatures have plummeted. And when temperatures start to warm again, in coming days, chances are good that there will be an even bigger increase in the number of broken lines. Richardson said most crew members take cowboy-like pride in their work, even though they get recognized far less than other emergency-response workers. Police and firefighters and even the men who drive the salt and sand trucks to treat icy streets get far more publicity than the workers who stand waist-deep in water, wrestling heavy pipe collars into place while ice builds up on their waders and clothing. When Tulsans arise and take a luxurious hot shower, fill their coffee pots with water, flush their toilets and do all of those other things that require flowing water, few realize that such normalities are only possible because there are men working in freezing muck and mire while others are bemoaning how miserable it is just to be outdoors. The waterline repair crews, along with the leak detection specialists, work for the Water Distribution section of the Environmental Operations Division in the Public Works Department. Anyone seeing what they think is a leaking water line can report the leak 24 hours a day by calling the City’s Water Emergency Line at 596-9488.

Updated 01-08-2010

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