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Water systems are crumbling despite fixes

As soon as one line is patched, another breaks July 28, 2001 BY MATT HELMS and CECILIA OLECK FREE PRESS STAFF WRITERS

As city officials in Wixom declared their water troubles nearly over, other suburbs were dealing with their own.

Almost a dozen water main breaks sent rusty, discolored water through homes in Garden City on Wednesday and Thursday, frustrating residents like Fawn Salvatore. She said she had had no water in her home on Marquette since Wednesday -- except for an hour Thursday morning.

"They had just finished repairing it Thursday and had packed it in at 8," Salvatore said Friday. "An hour later it broke again. I was cleaning and I looked out the window and saw water gushing up, so I was rushing around taking a shower and washing my hair before we lost it again."

There were also problems in Waterford Township and Highland Park.

Garden City officials said there was no danger to the water supply and said the biggest trouble with the 11 water-main breaks was inconvenience -- something metro Detroiters are learning a lot about this summer. Five nearly rainless weeks have parched lawns, pushing up demand for water and forcing restrictions on its use outdoors. Officials have imposed an even-odd system of lawn sprinkling and pool filling for the 126 communities using Detroit water.

Then there are isolated problems like those in Wixom, Garden City and Detroit, as well as Waterford and Highland Park.

Waterford Township police said water crews were working on a water-main break near Forest and Crescent Lake roads that was reported about 5:50 p.m. Friday. Police did not know how many people were affected by the break.

A water main also burst in Highland Park about 5 p.m. Friday at the corner of 6 Mile and Second, police Sgt. Rose Logan said. The pipe remained under repair four hours later. There were no reports of homes or businesses being inconvenienced, Logan said.

Wixom's troubles appeared to be winding down Friday, as the first round of bacteria testing showed no contamination after the city's water system lost pressure Thursday. That hampered firefighters as they battled an apartment blaze, and residents citywide were advised to boil drinking and cooking water.

Water pressure began dropping early Thursday morning, Wixom officials said. When that happens, the level of water in a 1.5-million gallon water tank near the Ford Motor Co. plant goes down and signals a computer that turns on pumps at four city wells.

That system failed. Greg McCaffery, the Wixom public services director, said water pressure dropped by more than half -- and some areas may have had no pressure at all.

Pressure was restored to normal Thursday afternoon, McCaffery said, with the pump system operating manually. He said the computerized system could be working by Monday.

The boil-water order was to remain in effect until at least tonight "to err on the side of safety," said City Manager Mike Dornan.

At Leon's Food and Spirits on Wixom Road near the Ford Motor Co. plant, general manager Mark Seman said customers were understanding and still came in for the fish and chips and ribs Friday. They got chilled bottled water and canned sodas but no ice.

"It's a little inconvenient, but the city's been great," Seman said.

In Detroit, high temperatures have taken their toll on old water pipes.

James Heath, assistant director of water operations, said Friday that the city is handling 15 to 20 water-main breaks a day -- 10 to 15 percent more than normal.

He blamed the problem on the heat, saying warmer water from the Detroit River stresses pipes.

In Garden City, officials said only four homes, all on Maplewood, were advised to boil water. City Manager David Kocsis sought to assure residents that the water was safe -- if a bit rusty.

He said a Garden City valve that reduces water pressure from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department appeared to have failed, sending more than city pipes could handle. But for most water users, there was no danger of contamination, he said.

"That's the whole aspect of it -- it's all inconvenience," Kocsis said Friday.

For Salvatore's family, that inconvenience meant lugging buckets of water from the pool to flush the toilet and taking showers at friends' and relatives' houses. She said one of her sons was upset because a washer-load of his clothes came out rusty.

The main breaks also clouded the city pool, where officials prohibited diving until the water cleared.

And at Garden City Hospital, spokesman Terry Carroll said the hospital used bottled water Thursday but began using city water again Friday, except for kidney dialysis machines.

"We're not so concerned with bacteria in the water," he said, "but the clarity."

Contact MATT HELMS at 248-586-2618 or

-- Tess (, July 28, 2001

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