A 12-inch water main ruptured about 10 a.m. Friday at Northwest Tyler Avenue and 35th Street, sending water pouring through the Harding neighborhood and leaving several homeowners with flooded basements.
Corvallis Public Works crews closed the valves on either side of the break, leaving a dozen homes without service as they labored to repair the damage. A backhoe dug through asphalt, soil and gravel to expose a jagged, 15-foot crack spiraling around the heavy cast-iron pipe.
“That’s the biggest crack I’ve seen in a long time,” said Tom Penpraze, the city’s utilities manager.
It was the fifth water line to break in the city this week as nighttime temperatures have hovered around the freezing point.
“You get these extended periods of cold weather and the soil starts to move,” Penpraze said. “The pipe’s fine until it gets twisted.”
Though it was installed in 1951, the thick-walled pipe appeared to be in good condition aside from the rupture.
Penpraze said the break should be fixed by 5 p.m. Friday, but full service would not be restored until Saturday morning, after Public Works had an opportunity to flush and disinfect the line. City employees were distributing bottled water to affected households.
Meanwhile, at least five basements flooded after runoff from the broken pipe overwhelmed the neighborhood’s combined stormwater-sewer system and backed up through floor drains. The working assumption, Penpraze said, is that muddy water from the street may have mixed with sewage, contaminating anything it touched.
One of the flooded basements belonged to City Councilor Bruce Sorte, who had 3 to 4 inches of dirty water on the floor even though he installed a backflow valve after a 2006 break in the same water main just a few feet west of Friday’s breach.
“Our backflow didn’t work,” he said, adding several of his neighbors reported similar failures in their valves, which are supposed to guard against just such an event.
Sorte said the damage in his basement was limited to some clean laundry, but others may have ruined carpeting, damaged appliances and other expensive losses to deal with. He thinks the city needs to begin upgrading old water lines to prevent future breaks.
“We really do need to recognize that these old systems need some investment,” he said.
Penpraze said all the pipes that broke this week were in good repair, although new materials and construction techniques might reduce the risk of a rupture.
“But there are no guarantees,” he said.
A house owned by Rand Cooper at 506 N.W. 35th St. took the initial brunt of the rupture, which sent water gushing into his yard about 10 a.m.
“It was just pouring out of there and running over the yards,” he said.
Worried about keeping the water out of his house, Cooper made a run to a local Les Schwab Tire Center for sandbags, but in the end they weren’t needed.
“It was lapping up against our mother-in-law unit, but it didn’t get in,” he said.
“We don’t have a basement, so we’re good.”
Across the street at 521 N.W. 35th, Susan Merrill wasn’t so lucky. With no backflow valve in her floor drain, her basement filled with 1½ feet of dirty, smelly water. She also got flooded by the 2006 break.
“It’s pretty ugly,” she said Fiday.
Merrill was having the damage assessed by a cleaning company. She thought she would probably have to replace some wooden shelving and throw out some sleeping bags and camping gear that got soaked.
She was hoping that her washer, drier and furnace could be salvaged. Her homeowner’s insurance should cover the damage, but she has a high deductible and she worries that her premium could go up.
“It might,” she said. “I mean, it’s the second one.”
Penpraze said the city was trying to help homeowners any way it could. A risk management officer was going door to door, telling people how to file a claim for water damage, and large waste bins were being brought in for disposing of soiled carpets and other ruined household goods.
“We hate seeing this kind of thing happen,” Penpraze said. “It’s hard on our customers.”
Contact reporter Bennett Hall at email@example.com or 541-758-9529.