Construction project cuts water line, service

Jenny Gessaman
A long piece of pipe missing a chunk lays on a mixture of green grass and dirt.

The section of 10-inch water main that burst under pressure Wednesday afternoon lies on the grass after being removed.

Photo courtesy of Nick Nowak

Construction on the Lewistown West Overpass Project cut one water main and burst another Wednesday afternoon, leaving parts of Lewistown without water in the afternoon and evening. According to Century Companies, Inc., western Main Street, as well as southern neighborhoods including Bonanza Hills and Casino Creek, were affected.

Tim Robertson, president and CEO of Century Companies, Inc., said the first line was hit around 2 p.m. when crews were digging to install a sewer line.

“In the process of digging to where the sewer line goes, they inadvertently nicked a water main,” he said.

The second break came when workers tried to shut off water in the area.

“In responding to that water leak, they closed some water valves in the vicinity.” Robertson said. “That, in turn, created some back pressure in the system and an older water main just to the southeast of the location . . . burst underground.”

Century crews were the first to find the second break, according to him, and the company called the public works department. He reported temporary repairs were finished Wednesday night, with permanent ones completed Thursday morning.

Interim City Manager Holly Phelps said both crews worked hard to restore the lines.

“Both Century and City crews worked well into the night,” she said, explaining, “Even when the patches are in place, you still have to bleed the line out and stuff.”

Thursday morning, Phelps said all water services had been resumed. She added cloudy water or popping noises could be expected, and were the result of air in the lines.

“We encourage people to continue running water,” Phelps said. “That will pull it [the air] through and out their faucets. It won’t do any damage, just make some scary noises.”

Phelps had no reports of damage to private or public property Thursday, and expected cloudy or noisy water to be the final consequences of the break. She was grateful for the response of Lewistown residents.

“People were very patient, and we want to thank them,” she said. “We understand the inconvenience.”

While several western Main Street businesses also lost services, Central Montana Medical Center kept its taps flowing.

As a hospital, CMMC has backups for the loss of any major utility, according to Plan Operations Director Brad Johnson.

“We’re required to have a backup for everything: power, gas,” he said. “We have to be self-sustainable for a while in case of emergencies.”

In this case, Johnson said the hospital has a private well that automatically switched on when the water pressure dropped.

“None of the patients should have been affected,” Johnson said.

The well system sends out notification when it is triggered, but he also received quick communication from the city about the water problem.

“The City was on top of it,” Johnson said. “They informed us, and we appreciate their help.”

Robertson does not expect any more water main incidents while finishing the overpass project, and reported the cause of Wednesday’s break had already been pinpointed.

“In this case, we have a procedure for finding a waterline like that, and several employees on site did not follow the proper procedures,” he said.

He added the company was reinforcing the procedure to all employees this week, and Century would be absorbing all costs related to the repairs.

“It was a valuable lesson learned and an unfortunate incident, but we’re going to work that much harder to not disrupt the public,” Robertson said.

For more information
• For questions or concerns about the water main break, or any other part of the Lewistown West Overpass Project, Robertson encouraged people to call Century at 535-1200.

• If people are still experiencing problems with their water, or want more information on the city’s water lines, Phelps recommended calling the Lewistown Public Works Department at 535-1770.



When do you think the snow will finally be melted in Lewistown?