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WSSC Not Second-Guessing Materials As They Lift Water Restrictions

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The 54-inch pipe that burst was made of concrete, but the WSSC says the material doesn't matter.
Matt Bush
The 54-inch pipe that burst was made of concrete, but the WSSC says the material doesn't matter.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission says repairs to a major pipe that nearly caused a water shortage in Prince George's County should be completed this weekend. In the mean time, water restrictions have been lifted.

The WSSC has had some high-profile problems with its water mains in recent years. This particular pipe was able to be taken out of service before it actually burst. But it was made of concrete, similar to other WSSC pipes that have broken recently, like the 2008 River Road incident where drivers were rescued via helicopter from their vehicles.

WSSC spokesman Jim Neustadt says all this week's situation has in common with the River Road break, so far, is the material makeup of the pipe.

"Rock and installation and the pipe. There were several things there," Neustadt says. "We don't know what the story is with this one yet. We haven't had the chance to look at it and figure it out."

The replacement pipe being installed right now in Forestville, Md., is made of iron. Neustadt is quick to say that's not an indictment of the durability of their concrete pipes.

"We find that there's only 1 to 2 percent that there is a problem with," Neustadt says. "And we replace or repairs those as we take those pipes out of service."

Neustadt adds that taking all the concrete pipes out of service at once to replace them out of fear more might rupture would leave customers without water for a lengthy period of time. He likens large water mains to major roads — specifically the three that link D.C. and Baltimore: I-95, the BW Parkway, and Route 29.

"If one of them goes out, you're still OK. If two of them go out, you got a problem but you're still OK. If all three of them go out, you got a big, big problem," he says.

Mandatory water restrictions will remain in effect in southern Prince George's County until the new section of pipe in Forestville is operating.

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