Wind takes city water for a whirl

Posted: Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Some Juneau residents were without water parts of Monday and Tuesday while the reservoir emptied due to power outages.

City and Borough of Juneau public works director Joe Buck said Taku winds whipped power lines on Mount Maria on Sunday, causing a power outage in the pump field. Backup generators kicked on, but a relay switch also failed, so power didn’t get to the pumps.

“Everybody started using water from our reservoir system,” Buck said. “It drew to almost zero.”

He said homes in high elevation eventually lost water because there wasn’t enough pressure, and homes in lower elevation may have noticed a weaker than normal pressure.

Buck said they got the system back online on Monday morning, but then after 7 p.m. the same thing happened and pumps were down when crews did their 5 a.m. checks.

“That’s when we scrambled to fix the problem again,” Buck said. “Assuming we don’t have another power outage and the generators don’t fail again, we’ll get the reservoir filled up again. We should be in pretty good shape by (this) morning. We’re trying to improve our alarm system so we have some duplication.”

Buck said they will work on installing sensors at Cope Park to detect low flow that will trigger an alarm.

He said it’s highly unusual to have two power outages back-to-back along with the generator issues.

Buck said Murphy’s law came into play with the whole situation as well. Salmon Creek generators are currently offline as two motors are being rebuilt. If those generators had been online, Buck said, there also wouldn’t have been an issue.

Buck said Alaska Electric Light and Power had its repairs complete by 10 a.m. Tuesday and the city generators were functioning again by lunchtime. Weather continued to give public works a hard time as a water pipe broke Tuesday as well. Buck said they believe water may have sprayed a generator, but it only needs to be dried out.

People were asked to conserve water through the shortage, but the city still encourages people to prevent frozen water lines by running a trickle.

“A trickle is not that big of a deal,” Buck said. “Running five loads of laundry, taking showers and baths and flushing the toilet repeatedly, that’s the problem.”

The request for water conservation, pending no further problems, expired Tuesday evening. Buck said homes in higher elevation should be back to normal water pressure within a day or two.

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.



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