by: COURTESY OF PORTLAND WATER BUREAU - It didnt take long for Portland Water Bureau workers to get down to business, locating and fixing the broken cast iron water main - buried several feet under the road. After two and a half days of snowfall in Inner Southeast, followed by freezing rain, an old cast-iron water main near the intersection on S.E. 20th a half block from Powell Boulevard gave way underground, creating a big sinkhole in the street and a sending flood of water surging down Powell into the underpass beneath the Union Pacific and future MAX tracks at 17th.

At 3:30 am Sunday morning, February 9th, the 20-inch diameter water main, installed in 1931, ruptured and caused a churning fountain to appear in the middle of 20th Street. Portland Water Bureau crews rushed to the scene to shut down the water to the pipe, and Powell was closed west to S.E. 14th. Although some customers may have lost water service for a time, the Water Bureau reported that most people in the region still had water. Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish told media late that morning that the effort to pump out the water collected in the underpass at 17th had been successful. Powell was reopened late Sunday morning. The defective section of pipe was replaced, and S.E. 20th was eventually reopened Sunday night. The pipe failure was blamed, in part, on the days of freezing weather the area had been experiencing, in which temperatures at night had been down into the teens.

A Water Bureau spokesperson clarified that, “Temperatures can be just one factor in causing a main break; the age of a pipe, soil conditions, pipe corrosion and ground movement can cause a main to weaken over time and break.”

Due to the size and location of this particular water main, some customers reportedly experienced discolored water, but it was nonetheless considered safe to drink. People in the affected area were encouraged to run water until any brown color had cleared.

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