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November 9, 2004 > City and Water District Respond to Main Break

City and Water District Respond to Main Break

by Linda Stone

The Alameda County Water District (ACWD) board meeting on October 28, 2004 centered on a disastrous water main break on October 26, 2004 that caused damage in the Centerville area of Fremont and threatened the integrity of Union Pacific Railroad's track at the Centerville Train Station.

The catastrophic failure was one of the top three or four in recent memory, said ACWD General Manager Paul Piraino. Admitting that there were problems disseminating information to the public, Piraino suggested that the board look into working with Comcast or Ohlone College to put out updated and accurate information - alert bulletins - to prevent the broadcast of misinformation. Piraino spoke of the difficulty handling media requests from six or seven TV stations while trying to assess the situation.

An example of media confusion and misrepresentation was an announcement by radio station KCBS that the water in Fremont was not safe. That announcement left some Fremont residents wondering what to do next. "I was driving home listing to KCBS when I heard the announcement," said Fremont resident Jim Sigafoose. "I got home and told my wife not to drink the water. We were very concerned." While it remains unclear how the radio station received erroneous information, the board is looking into the matter to prevent a reoccurrence.

City officials attending a council meeting that began at 7 p.m. on the same evening were not informed of the event although the break reportedly occurred at approximately 6 p.m. City Manager Fred Diaz was left a voice mail message on his cell phone but was unaware of the problem until after the close of the council meeting at approximately 8:30 p.m. Diaz noted that he should have been informed earlier although he is confident that the proper repair and safety crews were alerted and on site as soon as the problem was discovered. Discussions of proper protocol for informing city officials has been a topic of discussion at city offices following the event.

About 30 ACWD maintenance repair crews were on site during the evening and into the next day. Director Marty Koller was also at the site as well as Operations Manager Karl Stinson and Engineering Manager Bob Shaver. "We were there all night," said Koller.
City fire, police and maintenance staff were on site, and Fremont Fire Department Battalion Chief Larry Anderson was also at the scene to provide support and coordination. Council member Dominic Dutra came by to review the situation after he heard TV reports about the leak and wanted to ensure that there was adequate coordination with businesses in the vicinity that might have experienced water damages.

ACWD staff presented photos of the broken water main and location of piping similar to that used to line the old iron pipe located next to the railroad tracks near Fremont and Peralta boulevards. Techtite piping had been used as a liner within the old iron pipe. This type of piping is used in some areas throughout the water system. All agreed that these areas should be reevaluated and replaced if necessary. "We want to be proactive in our approach," said Director Arthur Lampert.

The Centerville fire station was set up so that people who had suffered property damage could come make insurance claims and Bill Zenoni, ACWD Finance Manager provided damage assessment. A decision was made to call a restoration company to start repairs immediately.

All board members agreed that their staff and all who worked hard through the night did a wonderful job and should be commended. Quick response and management of the main break avoided a potential train disaster since freight and passenger traffic had been scheduled to use that track. Trains were diverted to the unaffected track through Centerville.

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