Water main valve failure leaves Amesbury residents high and dry

Courtesy photoThis photo from the Amesbury Department of Public Works shows the water main that had to be replaced Sunday in Amesbury. 

AMESBURY — Many South Hampton Road area residents had to make due without showers or flushable toilets for close to 24 hours after a water main valve failed Saturday afternoon.

Public Works Director Rob Desmarais said his crew responded to a water main break at the bottom of Rowell Street about 2 p.m.

Although the department did not anticipate having to shut off water to complete the repair, the situation became more serious when the road was opened and workers discovered the valve assembly was encased in concrete.

Although Desmarais was attending to a family matter Monday, he did send an email to The Daily News to explain the repair.

“Encasing a valve assembly in concrete is a highly irregular practice which has never been encountered by our repair team in Amesbury,” Desmarais said. “It is believed that the vibration of the valve against the concrete over time led to the failure of the valve.”

Desmarais also said a water main break would normally be repaired with full water restoration within six and eight hours, but the situation Saturday turned out to be more complicated.

“In the case of Rowell Street, the presence of concrete on and around the assembly led to a more intensive repair job, which resulted in a longer period of water service disruption,” Desmarais stated.

Department of Public Works crews spent 29 hours repairing the valve and installing a new assembly that included three valves.

Sections of South Hampton Road and the surrounding area from Market Street up to the New Hampshire border, as well as Stuart and Rowell streets, were without water through most of the repair time, but the city was unable to provide an estimated number of residents who were affected.

The city also issued information to residents via its Reverse 911 phone system and the Senior Center was opened to the public between 2 and 7 p.m. on Sunday.

“Our DPW crew did an excellent job under unique and challenging circumstances to repair this break as quickly and safely as possible,” Mayor Ken Gray said in an email. “When it became clear the disruption in water service would be prolonged, we opened the Senior Center, staffed with Emergency Operations Center personnel, to provide water and bathroom facilities to those without water service.”

Gray’s chief of staff, Evan Kenney, said about 15 people came to the Senior Center on Sunday.

Gray said he met with representatives from the DPW and the Amesbury Fire Department on Monday morning to review the city’s response to the weekend emergency to make sure “continuous improvements are being made to our processes as we encounter unexpected events going forward.”

“The DPW worked really hard to fix what was a bad situation,” District 3 City Councilor Matt Einson said. “The mayor’s office let people know as soon as they were able to get the information out to people. They also made things available to those that needed water. Everyone pitched in and helped out and did what they had to do.”

Staff writer Jim Sullivan covers Amesbury and Salisbury for The Daily News. He can be reached via email at jsullivan@newburyportnews.com or by phone at 978-961-3145. Follow him on Twitter @ndnsully.

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