Water Loss Mystery Solved

A terra cotta pipe in a hole with water gushing out of the ground.

The mystery water leak found!

July 11, 2006
Copyright 2006 Big Valley News.net

If you are a person who keeps up with important world news by following CNN, BBC, UPI, Big Valley News.net, (or simply if you live in Bieber) you are probably aware that during the last 3 power outages, we have run out of water much more rapidly than expected.  For some time now, a major leak has been suspected, but has not been located.

In previous power outages, the water supply has lasted for several days, but in the past year water has run out much faster. During the last PG and E outage, despite public co-operation in limiting usage, the tank ran dry in about 6 hours.

A leak this size should be easy to spot when it's not the rainy season, it should be clearly visible as a big wet spot somewhere, unless it's under the Pit River, but nothing has shown up until now! The water district normally starts reading water meters in June and the June/July, but  readings showed no unusual large usages which could account for the high flows.

Today, Steve Jackson, the water district's manager was inspecting sewers and noticed a high flow in one of them.  Tracking the flow through various manholes located a high flow to be between 2 manholes about 500 feet apart, and in fact a large flow into the sewer could be heard by ear somewhere down the line.  But why was a leak this size dumping directly into a sanitary sewer with no visible ground signs?

Snakes were run down the main sewer line and then down a residential cleanout hoping to get some clues, such as sound changes, as the snake passed the leak and with a bit of good bit of detective work it was noticed that the sound changed as the snake was about 20 feet into a cleanout.

So, fortunately the property owner has a handy back hoe and was co-operative. Digging in his driveway soon located a wet spot. But a direct connection between a line outside his meter and the sewer, how could they possibly be connected?

Further digging soon located a large leak which as responsible for Bieber's mystery water supply failure

The actual mechanism of the leak was as follows:

A small leak in an iron pipe caused enough turbulance inside the pipe to create more corrosion in the pipe from the inside to accelerate the hole erosion and to cause 2 more holes.  One hole gets large enough to start removing soil and weaken the support of the sewer pipe which sinks closer to the water main and eventually crack the terra cotta sewer line. In the mean time, the big hole continuously squirts and eventually breaks through the sewer line and the combination of cracked sewer line and water from the main eventually causes a clear path for water to dump into the sewer without ever showing up at the surface.

An entire 4 inch water main (installed pre 1940) had to be shut off to reveal the leaks and plug them with wood pegs so the hole could be bailed out for sufficient visibility to ascess the situation. 3 holes in pipe were found within 6 inches of each other one about 3/8 inch in diameter, one about 1/4 inch and another in between.

Other than a few hours shutoff for few customers, despite the fact that the water main was close to a sewer line, no contamination of the public water supply took place because