Searcy Public Utilities has repaired a main water line that broke Tuesday morning, leading Searcy High School to shift to virtual learning for the day, but General Manager Dan Dawson said the water line is not yet back in service.
“We have to flush it and we have to take some samples,” Dawson said. “They did finish with the repairs [between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.] and it is all covered up.”
He did not know the exact number of customers the break temporarily affected, but said it was “several, especially those who are in higher elevation areas of the city; it’s just physics.
“All the water was back and restored by 9:30 [a.m. Tuesday]” as the public utility shifted service over to its other main water lines, Dawson said.
Before service can be shifted back, water samples have to be cleared by the Arkansas Department of Health, and Dawson said that could take several days so it might be sometime this weekend, but the two other lines are running and taking care of water supply.
“That’s why we have multiple lines so we can still supply water and nobody knows the difference,” he said.
The line broke at 6:20 a.m. near the 8400 block of Arkansas Highway 13. “What it was, we have three main transmission lines that send water from the water plant out there by Riverside Park to town and one is a 30-inch diameter, one’s a 20-inch and one’s a 12-inch,” Dawson said. “The 12 is the oldest one, the 20 is the next oldest and the 30 is the newest. The 20-inch is what broke.
“It’s just an old cast-iron line and sometimes this cast iron will just start getting a crack in it and it will just split all the way down that piece of pipe, and that is exactly what happened here.”
He said it’s “very difficult to determine the cause” of the break.
“Pipes, they just break sometimes and sometimes there’s no way to know exactly for sure why,” Dawson said. “That’s why we keep spare parts because when they do break, we do want to fix them.
“Fortunately, we have got those other two lines, so we’re able to still supply everybody with water. We had to shut everything down for about an hour until we could isolate the break but as soon we did we were able to turn the other lines back on and get everybody up with water. As far as we know everybody is back on water and everything is good.”
Dawson said when he arrived on scene about 7:30 a.m., White County deputies were out there with their lights on because there was “a whole lot of water coming off of that hillside and it was just puddling real bad and slowing down traffic and there were sheriff deputies at both ends telling people to slow down so they could get through that little bit of water on the road.”
He said as soon as the water was turned off, the traffic was fine.
Concerning how often water line breaks occur, Dawson said it is kind of random and hard to say how many times a year they may happen because there are lots of different sizes of pipes.
“This is only the second time I remember that this 20-inch has broken and it has been in the ground since the early ’70s,” he said. “I may be incorrect about that. I started working here in ‘84 and it’s the second time since I have been here that it has broke.”
Dawson mentioned that there is a video posted on their Facebook page that shows the water flowing from the break. “It’s kind of an interesting video; it looks kind of like a geyser,” he said.
The Searcy School District reportedly dismissed students from the high school at 9 a.m. due to the water line break, pivoting to remote learning. Betsy Bailey, school community/coordinator for the district, said Tuesday afternoon that the water had been restored. Students returned to campus Wednesday.
The school district also had to shift Ahlf Junior High School to remote learning for the rest of this week due to a number of staff members having to be quarantined. The district did not give the number in a Facebook post Tuesday evening.
The district said deep cleaning and sanitizing would be done and staff is expected back on campus today. Students will return to campus Monday.