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UPDATE: County reviewing communication strategy after unexplained water pressure drop

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UPDATE: County reviewing communication strategy after unexplained water pressure drop

DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.
DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

Water pressure is expected to drop briefly this afternoon, July 24, as crews work to repair a water main break, the county says.

“DeKalb water customers may experience a short interruption in water pressure this afternoon while a valve in the line is closed to stop the current breach,” a statement from the county says. “At that time, crews will insert a new valve in the fire line to stop the leak.”

The county is increasing its communication about the issue after the initial drop in pressure caused widespread confusion among residents.

For a moment on Thursday evening, July 23, some DeKalb County residents thought they’d gone crazy.

Water pressure dropped until it became non-existent in many DeKalb communities. It wasn’t until people began connecting the dots over social media that everyone realized something was up. There was no word from the county on what had happened until Friday morning of July 24. Also, residents were unable to reach 24-hour emergency line for the water department, due to a persistent busy signal.

The county on Friday morning reported that a vehicle hit a fire hydrant on a 48 inch main transmission line at Henderson Mill and Evans Road. The report came several hours after the incident happened and much of the pressure had been restored. So what if something really bad had happened?

County spokesperson Burke Brennan concedes the point. The county can do better, he said, and he promised the county will review how it handled the July 23 incident.

The county says pressure may drop again tonight as crews continue working to fix the main.

Brennan provided the following assessment of what went wrong:

This is a two part issue:

First, the inability of some residents to reach the emergency line.  The issue here is that there is only 25 or so lines that can reach dispatch at a single time, and then there are only a few operators overnight to answer them.  When there is a water event which exceeds this capacity, all callers that exceed the phone capacity get a busy signal.  However, Watershed was aware of the issue from the start and utilized the lion’s share of their resources to fix the cause of the calls, which was the water main break itself.

The other issue is the delay in notification.  I’ll start off with this: the press release and Twitter notifications should have gone out sooner.  Overnight tweeting especially needs some work on this end, and we are aware of this.  The concern you raise about “What if something really goes wrong,” is an important point.  If something “really went wrong” we would employ a reverse 911 callout and activate a notification via CodeRED, which is a subscription based service.  In the event the quality of the water deteriorated to an unsafe level, or if there was another immediate threat to the public, Public Safety could send these out unilaterally.  As it pertains to the water event last night, it was decided that a temporary drop in water pressure did not rise to the level of an immediate emergency.  However, it is a topic which we are discussing today in hindsight.

Water main breaks never happen at a good time.  They are always unexpected and inconvenient.  The number one priority is to fix the problem expeditiously to minimize the impact to residents, businesses and other stakeholders.  This is why the line was depressurized overnight and restored at 3:30 a.m.  At this point, the repairs continue and we do not know if there will be another need for reducing pressure or not.  If this re-occurs, we will again be faced weighing the same issues as it pertains to impacting the customers.

Decaturish thanked Brennan for his thoughtful and candid response to our question about how the county communicated with residents following the water pressure drop.

“Anytime, sir,” Brennan replied. “We’ll do better next time.”

Earlier on Friday, the county released this update noting that water pressure may drop again as crews work to resolve the issue. The county sent a subsequent update warning customers there might be an interruption in service Friday afternoon.

DECATUR, Ga. – DeKalb County continues work on a 48-inch main transmission line at Henderson Mill and Evans Road, after the hydrant was damaged by a mowing crew working in the area.

Pressure was reduced overnight to get control of the flow of water.  Pressure was restored to the system at 3:30 a.m., however the leak is still present.

DeKalb Watershed crews are engaging a contractor to assist us overnight.  Similar to last night, DeKalb water customers may have a short interruption in water pressure while a valve in the line is closed to stop the current breach.  At that time, crews will insert a new valve in the fire line to stop the leak.

The 48-inch transmission main is approximately 20 feet underground in an area with gas, power and other utilities present.  These obstacles require substantial coordination and care.

No boil water advisory is indicated at this time. The system will continue to have additional testing to assure the water supply remains safe.