A headline earlier today in our This Just In blog proclaimed “That’s A lot of Water.” How much water, you ask: 3.8 million gallons.

That’s enough to satiate Council President Scott Peters’ home water needs for seven years, judging by his recent usage statistics.

So why did the water run for so long? Surely the city doesn’t lose 3.8 million gallons of water every time someone knocks over a fire hydrant.

Arian Collins, a water department spokesman, gave us a breakdown of how the water department responded yesterday.

  • 4 p.m. The water department receives a call about a knocked-over fire hydrant. Water is gushing into the street. People are slowing down on the freeway to look at it. It’s quite a dilemma.
  • Approximately 4:30 p.m. City crews arrive on the scene, tools in hand to shut off the hydrant. Apparently, when they arrived, they found that the shut off valve for the hydrant was broken. They normally just arrive on the scene and turn it off with a T-shaped tool, like the one seen in the photo here.
  • But, water department employees found the valve was not functioning properly. Collins said he believed the peg was stripped. They had to switch their plans.

  • Time Unknown The city calls in a special gate crew, which attempts to isolate the problem. The city hesitates to shut off the water main, because it will cut the flow to the surrounding restaurants and hotels. If they shut off water to the restaurants, they are required to close, Collins said. And, he said, with the summer tourism season jamming Mission Valley’s hotels, the city didn’t want to cut off water to our out-of-town visitors. Collins didn’t have a definite time when this specialized crew came in, although workers were still trying to work the T-tool on the hydrant when I left at about 7 p.m.
  • Approximately 9:30 p.m. City crews realize they can’t isolate the problem and decide to cut off the water mains. More than five hours have passed since they got the call and, in the meantime, 3.8 million gallons of water has gushed onto the city streets. Collins said that in a typical scenario, the city has the geyser under control within an hour of the first call.
  • Approximately 11:20 p.m. The water is back on and it’s no longer gushing from the hydrant. The nearby restaurants and hotels get their water back after more than an hour and a half without it.

Knowing what they know now, would the city have let the pumps run for so long? After all, the region, as the mayor recently declared, is facing a major water problem.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” Collins said. “I think the crew was certain that they would be able to isolate it.”


Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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