NM - Major water line ruptures in Espaņola

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NM - Major water line ruptures in Espaņola

By MARISSA STONE/The New Mexican July 26, 2001

ESPAŅOLA - The town's west side - including the local hospital - was without city water Wednesday, after a main line that feeds most of the area ruptured, spilling more than a half-million gallons of water into a nearby arroyo. Many residents had no means of bathing or flushing toilets.

Espaņola Hospital - which had no water from shortly after midnight until around 5 p.m. Wednesday - was prepared to evacuate patients, but no evacuation took place. Instead, at least one patient from the hospital's intensive-care unit was transferred to Los Alamos Medical Center.

Espaņola Hospital was accepting only emergency patients Wednesday, and all surgeries and appointments were canceled, said Marcella Romero, the hospital's administrator.

To alleviate the situation at the hospital, the New Mexico National Guard brought in several tanker trucks that were capable of supplying 5,000 gallons of water to the hospital at a time.

Inside the hospital, air conditioners, which need water to function, were not working. Hospital boilers, coolers, sterilizers and lab equipment, all run by water, also did not work. Three portable toilets were set up outside to accommodate hospital staff and visitors, and toilets in hospital rooms did not flush.

Romero said she sent her staff out to buy cases of bottled water for patients and staff.

When a water line breaks in the city, said Espaņola water-operations foreman Marvin Martinez, the hospital is the first facility affected. Unlike many other buildings in town, the hospital is two stories tall and on an incline, and requires more water pressure than most buildings.

City water officials said water should begin running again this morning.

The water line that burst was being replaced as part of a highway-department project to expand the two-lane N.M. 84/285 into a four-lane highway. The state did not want to keep water lines that were almost 40 years old underneath the new highway, Martinez said. "They didn't want to build a new road on top of an old line."

The water in the line had been shut off Tuesday night, leaving residents without water, in preparation for the replacement, said Carl Archuleta, a water operator/meter reader. The line installation was supposed to be completed Wednesday morning, he said.

At 11:30 a.m., two Welty Construction workers dug up a 10-inch water line to replace it with a 12-inch pipe when the smaller line "blew on them," Martinez said.

By 1 p.m., half a million gallons of water had spilled onto the road but were eventually diverted into a nearby arroyo, Martinez said.

"It's nobody's fault," said the general contractor for David Montoya Construction, who declined to give his name.

City Manager Leonard Padilla said the old line had been capped so the new line could be installed. Maybe there was "just too much (water) pressure on the line," he said.

However, Espaņola Utility Director Frank Naranjo offered a different explanation. Crews were trying to tie connecting pipes at a "T" angle around the line, he said, and it gave out.

The main line is fueled by water from three water tanks about 5,000 feet away.

The Montoya general contractor said Espaņola's water lines are outmoded. New regulation lines, he said, have shut-off valves every 500 feet.

Although water was running on the east side of town, the Espaņola Dialysis Center did not have enough water pressure to run its dialysis machines for patients with kidney problems. Some dialysis patients had to be driven to Santa Fe for care, said Annette Gonzalez, director of nursing at the center.

In addition, more than seven fire departments were on alert in case a fire broke out that would require water to be brought from other fire departments, said Fire Chief Ray Wolf. The department had more than 6,000 gallons of water on hand, he said, and more at its disposal from other departments.

The city jail was also equipped with an extra tank of potable water, Archuleta said.

The break left residents on the west side with only a slow stream of water trickling out of their faucets.

Some bedridden residents called City Hall, concerned about how they would make it through the day without water.

Others had less-serious problems. "I have a sinkful of dishes and glasses and can't wash them," said Olivama Martinez, who lives on the city's west side. She was sitting on the porch with her husband, Edward. Olivama Martinez said it took an hour to fill her bathtub at 6:30 a.m. In addition, she said the couple's toilets did not flush and their air conditioner was not working.

"I missed work because there was no water," said 22-year-old Chris Waters, a west-side resident who said he was unable to take a shower in the morning.

City hall and the hospital had posted signs prohibiting people from using the buildings' bathrooms. "Do not use the toilet," one sign said, "there is no water to flush it."

Espaņola Deputy Clerk Michelle Martinez said she had not used the bathroom all day. At a local gas station, two cashiers said they also had not used the bathroom Wednesday. "We just don't drink," said shift leader Christine Gallegos. Two wooden chairs blocked the station's bathroom doors.

Even with problem fixed, Archuleta said, it will take days for the city's water pressure to return to normal. Additional ruptures in smaller lines could occur, he said, because there might be too much oxygen in them. http://www.sfnewmexican.com/site/news.cfm?newsid=2135725&BRD=2144&PAG=461&dept_id=367954&rfi=6

-- Doris (nocents@bellsouth.net), July 26, 2001

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