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City official: 'Extremely remote' circumstances led to water system failure

City crews tore up a portion of the Lake-Courtly road intersection Sunday to access a broken water main there -- one of at least five that blew between late Saturday and early Sunday in Woodbury. Staff photo by Mike Longaecker

Woodbury public works employees were in crisis mode over the weekend as they attempted to stop a problem with the city’s water system that left multiple mains broken around the city and displaced more than 30 residents of a new apartment complex.

Though the problem was largely resolved by Monday, public works employees were continuing to learn of additional water main breaks occurring in the city. At least nine breaks occurred during the stretch that began Saturday night and extended into Monday, said Public Works Director Klayton Eckles.

“This is a major concern for us,” he said Monday. “We take pride in providing safe and high-quality drinking water that never fails. The system didn’t work this time and we’re definitely wanting to apologize to our residents.

“The city staff here is committed to not only dealing with the situation, but to (identifying) the causes and ensuring this never happens again.”

City officials were first alerted to the problem late Saturday night after learning that a water pipe had failed at the new Views at CityWalk apartment complex on Lake View Drive.

The American Red Cross reported that it is assisting 33 people – 15 of whom are children – displaced as a result of the incident, which resulted in 45 units being evacuated.

Jason Egerstrom, Woodbury’s communications coordinator, said a resident at Views at CityWalk reported hearing a loud “boom” and seeing water come through his ceiling.

Eckles said it wasn’t immediately evident whether that incident was connected to a systemwide failure because alarms that normally would have tripped did not.

He said initial indications were that the city’s waterworks system malfunctioned and caused its pumps to continue pumping. That, Eckles said, created a build-up of pressure in the system that caused “a number of weak points around town” to fail.

The incident did not affect the city's water quality, according to city news releases.

On Monday, the city had fielded more than 60 calls related to the incident, Eckles said. Most calls related to release valves popping on water heaters, which led to basement flooding in some instances.

Other leaks caused by the system failure were less severe, such as minor drips, Eckles said.

He said the city’s waterworks facility – the location of which is not public – operates on an automated system and is not staffed during weekends. However, the system is monitored remotely and designed to trip alarms and execute backup controls during failures.

That didn’t happen Saturday and early Sunday, Eckles said – a scenario he called “extremely remote.”

Investigation began Monday to determine the cause of the malfunction and the failure of the alarms and of the backup controls.

There was no immediate indication that the problem was suspicious, but Eckles said “nothing has been ruled out” in the investigation.

He said the investigation – and a subsequent evaluation of the systems and procedures – will likely take months.

“I think we are getting past the crisis,” Eckles said Monday. “The acute problem is gone.”

However, he warned that additional breaks or leaks in the system could occur over the next several days.

The city announced options for property owners who sustained damages as a result of the water main breaks. Those people can file claims through the city’s insurance company.

People reporting damage should email with their name, address, phone number and a brief description of the damage, according to a citywide email released Monday. Delays in inspection could be possible if a large number claims are made, the email states.

The city notes that claims will be reviewed individually and that reimbursement is not guaranteed.

Seven broken mains were repaired as of Monday morning, with water service restored to residents in those areas. Workers continued to repair a broken main at Courtly and Lake roads, which was expected to be complete on Tuesday.

Eckles said a ninth water main break occurred Monday, though he wasn’t yet sure of the location.

The intersection at Lake and Courtly roads was torn up to access an underground water main, which closed access to the intersection.

The city acknowledged reports of water damage to buildings and homes.

Firefighters responded to water main break calls throughout the night on Saturday and into Sunday before being called to a fire at Bailey Nursery at about noon Sunday. Wallgren said two side-by-side trailers were destroyed in the fire, which he said was under investigation.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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