Despite working all day to fix a broken water main that shut off water to many buildings in downtown Chattanooga, officials with Tennessee American Water still are not sure when they’ll be able to fix it.
“To fix this main is going to take a while,” said Tennessee American Water spokeswoman Kim Dalton on Wednesday night. “The water will continue to run onto the street until we get down there and shut it off, and repairs could take a day or more.”
Dalton said she believes most buildings downtown had their water restored Wednesday afternoon, although pressure will continue to be low until the main is isolated and the water turned off. Workers have cut off the valves to the 24-inch transmission main and rerouted water through other mains, she explained.
No estimates are yet available as to how many buildings were affected by the broken main, but Dalton estimates that about 10,000 employees in the downtown area had to deal with no or low-pressure water Wednesday.
Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press Tennessee American Water President John Watson, left, talks Wednesday with Nick Kyriakidis, owner of Niko's restaurant, on the street outside the Southside business. A broken water main flooded streets in the area.
The main, located near the intersection of 14th and Cowart streets, was broken by an AT&T contractor drilling just before 10 a.m. Wednesday.
The huge water main is the primary supply of fresh water for Tennessee American Water customers downtown, on the Southside, Lookout Mountain and parts of North Georgia.
Streets throughout Chattanooga’s Southside looked more like rivers Wednesday afternoon as thousands of gallons of water poured down them.
Klein Enterprises was digging under the sidewalk on Cowart Street to install concrete ducts for AT&T fiber-optic lines. The drill got too close to the main, either hitting it directly or possibly shaking joints loose.
Christopher Kirby, a foreman with Klein Enterprises, doesn’t believe the drill punctured the main.
“We had already passed it. We were already 9 feet deep. The water main was about 4 to 6 feet deep,” Kirby said.
Using a computer to gauge the depth of the drilling, he said he believes the drill’s vibrations shook loose rock that hit the pipe’s joints, causing the leak.
AT&T spokeswoman Cathy Lewandowski said the cause of the break is still under scrutiny.
Staff Photo by John Rawlston/Chattanooga Times Free Press Water bubbles up from the sidewalk Wednesday at the corner of 14th and Cowart streets after a crew broke a 24-inch water main, flooding the area.
“We’re still trying to set this right, and then we’ll continue to investigate exactly what happened,” she said.
Lewandowski said AT&T contractors are assisting Tennessee American and city engineers in repairing the line.
Tennessee American did not clarify who will be paying repair costs.
“At this time, our main focus is to get our customers back in service, and we will deal with those issues after we take care of our customers,” a statement from the company said.
Chris Adams, deputy chief of the Chattanooga Fire Department, said the department had relocated tankers filled with water throughout the city in case they need to fight fires where water is not available.
“If we need to, we can draft water out of the Tennessee River,” Adams said. “But we haven’t done that for ages.”
Adams said public safety crews have been monitoring possible health hazards from the flow, but they have detected no serious dangers.
No damage estimates have been calculated yet, Dalton said, but downtown businesses are already worrying about money lost from water damage.
At Artech Architecture and Design Group on Cowart, water was trickling in through the walls by Wednesday afternoon.
“We’ve tried to manage it with sandbags and by sweeping it out as it comes, but it keeps coming in different rooms,” office manager Tanya Jones said.
The broken main also put a dent in the day’s profits, some businesses reported.
“We had to turn lunch rush away, and I’ve only had two tables in the two hours we’ve been open,” said Alan Wilkes, a server at the Terminal Brewhouse on Market Street.
Staff writers Dave Flessner and Cliff Hightower contributed to this story.