Tackling a Main Break: A Peek Behind the Scenes

Tackling a Main Break: A Peek Behind the Scenes

It was a chaotic scene on Tuesday, December 12 at the intersection of Clay and Oak Streets where Louisville Water Company crews were trying to isolate a break in a 48-inch water main.  Thirty-six thousand gallons of water a minute spouting from the large transmission main caused flooding and damage to the area.

But in the control room at the Crescent Hill Water Treatment Plant, the scene was quite different.  A team of engineers and plant operators were methodically looking at tank pressure and water levels throughout the service area, trying to keep people "in" water. 

Scott Smith, Louisville Water Manager of Operations and Plant Engineering, said it was a juggling act.  They turned off pumps in less critical areas, pushing water out to parts of the system where the break had lowered pressure.

“We were basically robbing Peter to pay Paul,” explained Smith. “Despite what was going on at the break site, we had to maintain high quality water by managing all of the distribution pumping stations.”

Louisville Water Director of Production Operations Larry Bryant said it was a complete role reversal for the Crescent Hill Water Treatment Plant and B.E. Payne Water Treatment Plant.

“Normally we’re sending additional water from Crescent Hill to help supplement demand at the Payne Plant," said Bryant. "With water from the break draining the system, we had to send water from Payne to Crescent Hill to compensate.”

Behind the scenes, water quality teams studied the grid of mains in and around the break and began collecting pressure/outage information from operations and radio room dispatchers. That information was used to create customer maps pinpointing the Boil Water Advisory (BWA) area. At the same time, water quality crews were scouting sites and on standby ready to collect those samples. 

According to Vince Monks, Louisville Water Manager of Distribution Water Quality, during an emergency, it's all about continuing to manage and nurture customer relationships while minimizing customer impact.

"Our group, via the cross connection control program, already has contact with critical customer groups such as hospitals, schools, industries and immune-compromised populations,” said Monks. “In an emergency situation, we maintain communications during and after the event so they know if/how their operations will be impacted."

As soon as Monks’ team got word that the distribution system was stable, BWA maps were distributed and samples were collected. The goal was to quickly and efficiently collect samples and get them back to the lab for analysis. The Strategic Communication group relayed information via the media, social media, IVR (customer messaging system), the call center and the corporate website.  Customers visiting LouisvilleWater.com simply typed in their address to find out if they were in the BWA area.  If they were, additional BWA information popped up on the screen.  If they were not, the screen said, "This location is NOT in the Boil Water Advisory Area."

In this case, the nearly 4,000 customers impacted by the BWA can be assured that the "behind the scenes" work contributed greatly to getting the advisory lifted as quickly as it did.