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Our View: Water problem will require more than mop-up job

Many Woodbury residents woke up last week to an unpleasant surprise – gallons upon gallons of water spilling into portions of their homes.

Hot water heater connections burst all over the city after a highly unusual set of circumstances led to a massive build-up in pressure to city water lines. According to the city, something malfunctioned at the waterworks facility that caused pumps there to continue pumping water when the system didn’t need it. That caused a major pressure build-up and led to water mains breaking all over Woodbury, along with hot water heater connections. Making matters worse was the city’s internal system didn’t identify that a problem was occurring, so backup processes didn’t go into effect to stop the pumps. Worse yet was the fact that alarms that should have alerted city staff to the crisis didn’t go off.

A new apartment in the CityWalk district got the worst of it. Residents there were evacuated after water came pouring in through their ceilings. More than 30 people living there were displaced by the event and had to be assisted by the American Red Cross.

This was not a low-level incident. A basic public resource that we all take for granted – the city’s water system – failed and some residents’ lives were turned upside-down as a result.

The city’s response to the incident was prompt and officials did a laudable job alerting the public to updates through the InTouch system.  That included the dissemination of how residents could file damage claims related to the water pressure incident. That level of responsiveness and accountability isn’t something every city would so promptly address.

We expect the same level of accountability and responsiveness as the city moves forward with the next phase in the process, which is already under way: determining what happened. We have no idea to what extent this may have been preventable – if at all. That’s the job of investigators, who are currently digging into the circumstances surrounding the incident. Once complete, the public deserves a full report detailing what went wrong and why.

That leads to the next step: drawing up an action plan to ensure a problem like this doesn’t happen again. Water quality is a sensitive subject in Woodbury, so the last thing residents here need is concern about the system’s reliability.

We are encouraged that the city took immediate steps to first resolve the situation and then to determine the cause. The public deserves transparency and action once answers and solutions emerge.

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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