City of Port Alberni officials will begin a review of last week’s water main break now that repairs have been done and water restored to the city.
Water was cut to parts of the city shortly after noon on Wednesday when an unloaded logging truck crashed through cement barriers on Franklin River Road and tumbled down a six-metre (20-foot) ravine, severing approximately 10 metres of the city’s main water supply line and damaging structural supports on the way down. Nearly 5,000 cubic metres of water gushed from the watermain before an emergency shutoff, city director of engineering and public works Rob Dickinson said.
The city issued an emergency via the VoyentAlert! system, imposing Stage 3 water restrictions and asking people to curb their use of water until repairs could be made. The city and Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District activated their Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in response to the incident.
“Not knowing the severity of the incident at first, we wanted to be able to pull the resources we needed to be ahead of this,” city CAO Tim Pley said.
On Friday morning, Dickinson said the city had approximately one day of water left in its reservoirs, where normally it would have four.
Water restrictions affected the city, Hupacasath First Nation, Tseshaht First Nation, Beaver Creek Water Local Service Area and Franklin River Road area. Water quality was not affected.
Approximately 12 homes and businesses on Franklin River Road were without water for more than 24 hours following the incident. Colin Murray, whose property is around a kilometre away from the site, was one of those residents.
Murray said he learned about the incident when the firetrucks and ambulances passed his driveway with lights and sirens flashing. A contact who lives closer to the scene sent him a text to alert him to the watermain break. “They told me to fill up everything I had with water because I was going to be out any minute, but it was too late.”
Murray improvised a water system for his property. “I put a siphon hose in the culvert coming across the road and plumbed it into my house,” he said.
City Mayor Sharie Minions said the city went straight to Stage 3 restrictions because it was thought maintaining that stage would help keep the reservoir at an acceptable level. She said this decision would be part of the post-incident review.
“We may need to look at changing our water conservations to look at an emergency situation that’s more applicable for time of year. But really we just wanted to get the message out to the community that it was important to conserve,” she said Friday.
The city had a backup plan if repairs to the watermain weren’t completed by Friday. There is a pump station on the Somass River and water could have been pumped from the Somass into the city’s water system, Minions said.
The city did not immediately have an estimate for how much the emergency repairs cost. The public works department had most of the material needed, and both Nanaimo and Courtenay were able to help with the rest. Contractors Coastal Bridge and Bowerman Knappett assisted the city’s crews with repairs through the night Thursday and water service was restored by 4 p.m. Friday.
“Once the incident is wrapped up we’ll report out to the public on that,” Minions said.
Mosaic Forest Management has also begun an investigation; the truck involved in the incident was contracted to them, the company explained in a statement provided to media. “Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident. The driver was transported to the hospital by ambulance and has since been released.”
Mosaic procured third-party security to help facilitate public access to Cameron Main, a privately owned road, while Franklin River Road was closed to accommodate emergency repairs to the watermain pipe.
Minions said the city and Mosaic have been in contact. “They’ve committed to a full review of the incident and reporting back to the city on that. They have telematics on their trucks so they’ll have full details on what happened, how the accident was caused.”
Dickinson said the city’s water system is insured “but I presume under these circumstances somebody else’s insurance will be paying for this.”
The city put out a a statement of thanks on Monday, March 13 thanking workers, residents and local governments who helped out during the emergency.
“The Alberni Valley always pulls together when we need each other, and this was no exception,” the release stated. “Thank you for your understanding, patience and hard work.”
— With files from Elena Rardon, Alberni Valley News