Mending a River(Road) - Reflections After The Bethesda Water Main Break

Still Mending River Road 4 Days Later

Since the 911 calls made their way onto CNN, there are probably not too many people who don’t know about the 66 inch water main that broke in suburban Maryland two days before Christmas, turning a main road into a river and trapping 9 motorists.

Those of us who live near the rupture were glued to television sets as the scene played out in front of our eyes, with helicopters and boats rescuing the victims and clearly saving lives. Many of those trapped reported not only rushing water (on a cold morning where temperatures were only in the teens), but also debris including rocks and branches. The fact that there were no serious injuries or fatalities is a real tribute to firefighters and Maryland State Police. And, it seems as though the community also owes a great deal of thanks to the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) and the road repair crews. In my house (located a couple of miles from the break), our only indication that something of this magnitude had happened with the water service was low water pressure. Although some homes were without water completely for a short period of time, WSSC was quickly able to redirect water so as to minimize any service interruptions.

In total, it took only 6 hours to get everything back to normal – which seems incredible given the amount of water involved, the vast service area, and the severe damage to a 66 inch water main. During those 6 hours, anyone selling water did a great business. I personally saw people pushing cartloads of bottled water out of a CVS, and a friend of ours bought almost $200 worth of water from the Drink More Water store in Bethesda. I also heard of one person who filled her bathtub…just in case her water was cut off later in the day.

And the damage to the road (for those of you from outside the area, it really is River Road)? Although a Montgomery County official described it as looking as though a bomb had gone off, State Highway crews were hard at work as soon as possible and worked through Christmas to make sure that commuters will have access after the holiday.

Our infrastructure is aging and this is surely not the last water main break we’ll suffer…but this was a potentially catastrophic event that was mitigated because of the professionalism of a lot of really good people.

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