Boil-water advisory issued in wake of water main break

  • Article by: NICOLE NORFLEET , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 9, 2013 - 8:11 PM

Lowertown streets were flooded as water pressure fell in several neighborhoods.

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Water main break in downtown St.Paul on Wall St. between 5th and 6th Streets near the Farmer's Market.

Photo: David Brewster, Star Tribune

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An overnight water main break flooded several downtown St. Paul blocks early Saturday, forcing city residents to boil their drinking water, restaurants to get creative with their menus and fans at Saturday night's Wild game to endure a dry spell -- literally.

The rupture led officials to issue a notice telling residents of downtown, the West 7th neighborhood and the lower West Side that they should boil tap water before drinking it. The advisory was expected to last at least until Sunday morning.

Just before midnight Friday, a 20-inch main broke on Wall Street between 5th and 6th Streets near the Farmers Market, sending 1.75 million gallons of water cascading through several blocks in the city's Lowertown section, according to Jim Graupmann, production division manager of St. Paul Regional Water Services. It wasn't clear what caused the leak, he said.

The rupture caused a widespread drop in pressure beyond downtown, West 7th and the West Side across the Mississippi River, Graupmann said. Some hospitals had to use reserve water supplies temporarily.

By 2:30 a.m., the break was isolated and water to that portion of pipe cut off, he said. Full pressure was restored to most of the system by 3 a.m. People without water on the two blocks of Wall Street were expected to have it back by the start of Sunday.

The flooding comes about a month after a more extensive break in downtown Minneapolis, where a 3-foot water main spewed 14 million gallons into the streets, damaging dozens of vehicles and closing several businesses. The Minneapolis break, which happened when a contractor struck the pipe with a backhoe, is expected to cost the city at least $325,000.

Drilling and testing

Throughout Saturday, St. Paul crews drilled into the warped and cracked street with the rupture and pumped water out of the hole as they worked to try to replace the pipe, Graupmann said.

Structural damage appeared to be limited to Wall Street, Graupmann said. Salt was put down in the affected area to deal with ice, he said. When the rupture occurred, most of the water ran downhill toward the Mississippi River, Graupmann said. "It got away from the site ... so it really didn't pool anywhere," he said.

Later Saturday, tap water was tested for volatile organic compounds, or "VOCs," some of which can have adverse health effects, Graupmann said. That test came back negative. Another test was conducted for bacteria, the results of which were not expected at least until Sunday morning. In the meantime, boiling the water would kill any bacteria, he said.

Residents were warned to boil their water for three minutes before using it for cooking, making ice and brushing their teeth, as well as drinking.

"We are dedicated to providing safe water for our customers," said Steve Schneider, general manager of St. Paul Regional Water Services.

While the rest of St. Paul was told they could quit boiling water at 6 a.m. Sunday, users on the two blocks of Wall Street were told to continue until further notice.

'A huge hassle'

The water notice didn't just affect residents; it hampered restaurants as well.

Chef Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market, across the street from the Farmers Market and right next to where the main ruptured, said water issues caused the restaurant to scramble.

To prepare for Saturday night, Russo purchased hundreds of bottles of water and 600 pounds of ice, he said. Coffee was off the menu because of temperature, time and taste issues. Dough and bread made earlier in the day with possibly contaminated tap water had to be shelved. The restaurant was looking at swapping out some other menu items, he said.

However, restaurants were able to use tap water in their commercial-grade dishwashers.

"When all is said and done, it was a huge hassle, but we are a resilient bunch," Russo said, talking about restaurateurs.

Early Saturday, there was confusion and a lack of information being relayed to local restaurants, Russo said. "We need a better system," he said.

At the Wild game Saturday night at the Xcel Energy Center, all water fountains were disabled. Bottled water, usually $4.25, was sold for $2.

Despite the morning mess in Lowertown, Mark Gilbertson of Gilbertson Farms didn't have any trouble setting up his tables of meats and eggs at the Farmers Market.

Some water was running through the market's lot and ice was forming along some curbs, he said. But crews spread salt everywhere at least twice, Gilbertson said.

"I've never seen so much salt get put down," he said with a chuckle.

Residents in St. Paul who continue to have problems getting water out of the tap may have air in their plumbing and will have to bleed it out, Graupmann said. He suggested they open the faucet in the highest point of the house until water comes out. They might have to open several faucets, he said.

Staff writers Michael Russo and Randy Furst and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Nicole Norfleet • 612-673-4495 Twitter: @stribnorfleet

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