ELLSWORTH, Maine — A water main break at a busy Main Street intersection Thursday flooded two downtown buildings and interrupted water flow to customers throughout a large section of the city.
Crews from the city’s water department worked throughout the day to repair the damage. According to City Manager Michelle Beal, the problem stemmed from a faulty gate valve at the intersection of Main and Water streets that failed at about 8 a.m. Thursday.
“The problem is that is the low point in Ellsworth,” Beal said. “There are four gate valves there and one broke. The top came off.”
Because that is the lowest point in the water system, water from other areas of the city flowed to that point when the valve broke, causing reduced pressure in a large part of the city and leaving many residents and businesses without water.
With no water available, the city’s schools sent students home at 10 a.m. and canceled after-school activities.
The crews spent much of the morning excavating and pumping water from the area. Beal said they were able to shut off the three other valves at the intersection, stopping most of the water outflow, but water seeping from those valves hindered repair operations. Closing the valves enabled crews to re-establish pressure in the lines and restore water to most of the area, although a few customers in the immediate area remained without water.
“We didn’t want to have to shut everything down,” Beal said. “We’re trying to repair this with the least amount of disruption possible.”
The city has issued a boil-water order for a wide area of the city, mainly north of Main Street, which will remain in effect until the repairs are completed and the water department can test the water, Beal said.
The repair operation disrupted traffic flow through the city.
“We’ve had major problems all day,” said Lt. Harold Page of the Ellsworth Police Department. “Initially we kept everybody out of there because the water department didn’t know how big a hole they were going to have to dig.”
Once the area was excavated, Page said, officers were able to keep a limited amount of traffic flowing through the intersection, although a section of Main Street below Hancock Street and a section of State Street near the break remained closed to traffic throughout the day. Officers diverted traffic around the area, which caused some congestion in other areas of the city.
“We’ve been diverting traffic around the area all day,” Page said, “and we’ve had problems with traffic backing up all day.”
The valves are 15 years old, according to Beal, and were installed during major reconstruction projects. The valves are made of a steel alloy rather than stainless steel, she said, and the city has had problems with them in other areas of the water system, although they were minor compared with Thursday’s break, Beal said.
By early Thursday evening crews had repaired the damaged valve box and were checking the surrounding area before closing the hole, Beal said.