Source of Shepherdstown water leak found

June 21, 2006|by DAVE McMILLION


The mystery over the location of a large leak in Shepherdstown's water system was solved Tuesday when town workers found a cracked water pipe extending over an underground rock crevice on Shepherd University's west campus.

Town officials estimate about 1 million gallons of water had gushed down the hole since the weekend and they poured concrete and gravel into it to give a new section of pipe installed in the spot proper support.

Frank Welch, Shepherdstown's public works director, described the opening as a rock crevice or possibly a sinkhole.

It appears the leak might have washed a large portion of the sides of the hole into the ground, and the opening was about 12 feet deep, Welch said.


The 6-inch line was a plastic PVC pipe, and there was nothing supporting it, Town Recorder Cindy Cook said.

Welch said it is unclear why the pipe failed. It might have had a slight bend in it, and it "gave up after 20 some years," Welch said.

Town officials previously said that the leak could have been due to the age of some water pipes, which could be up to 35 years old.

Shepherdstown officials said Monday they thought the leak was somewhere on the west campus of Shepherd University, and crews were digging in the area in an attempt to find it.

When a section of the water system on the west campus was shut down, the town's two water tanks on W.Va. 45 began to fill up, leading town officials to believe that the leak was in that area, Cook said.

The water level in the tanks had been about 24 feet on Sunday, but on Monday afternoon, the level had risen to about 60 feet, officials said.

Crews dug into the ground in about three or four places on the west campus when the leak was found Tuesday morning at the bottom of a set of steps between the Frank Center and a parking lot, Cook said.

With that news, town officials decided it was OK for town residents to resume normal usage, although the water needed to be tested to make sure it was safe to drink.

Cook said Tuesday that with the exception of the Cress Creek and Willowdale communities and areas west of Food Lion on W.Va. 45, the water service has been determined to be OK.

Water service for Cress Creek, Willowdale and the area west of Food Lion still needs to be tested, Cook said.

Town officials first discovered there was a leak in the system Thursday, and believed it was causing the release of up to 2,000 gallons of water per minute.

Water levels began going down in the town's water storage tanks, and town officials were worried that the leak combined with the town's water usage could drain the tanks.

Not only would that leave the town without water, it would make it difficult to find the leak, town officials said.

Town officials asked people to conserve water, and water tanker trucks and portable toilets were set up in and around town to help people cut back on water usage.

The Jefferson County Health Department mandated that restaurants in town be shut down until the town's water could be tested.

Restaurants and hotels also pitched in by turning patrons away and serving bottled water.

It is the second time there has been a water interruption in town due to a line failure.

In March, a 10-inch water main in front of the town's water plant on Princess Street broke, and town officials said that break could have been due to the pipe's age.

Welch said that town officials will be assessing the town's water system in light of the two recent incidents.

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