Sunday, May 2, 2010

Catastrophic Water Pipe Rupture Affects Boston

A single water pipe rupture in Weston, MA has affected the availability of water for 2 million in the Boston area. Ironically, this huge pipe is less than a decade old. There is speculation that the cause of the failure was in the rubber sleeves.

Boston receives its water from the Quabbin reservoir, which is located not far from Amherst, in western Massachusetts. The Quabbin was formed decades ago by destroying homes and relocating people. Cambridge has its own water supply and was not affected.

The Boston Globe has a report on this catastrophic failure in which the loss of a single critical network link is affecting millions. People in the affected towns (east of Weston) are required to boil the water that they consume for a minute. There is backup water for bathing and flushing toilets (but not for drinking).

The planners and engineers were concerned that such a failure might happen but could not construct a redundant link in time (it is scheduled to be completed in 2014).

According to the Globe: “You always need redundancy,’’ said Joe Favaloro, executive director of the MWRA advisory board, which advocates for ratepayers. He said it was unclear how bad the problem is, and what costs would eventually fall to ratepayers.

“You don’t budget for catastrophic failures on pipes less than a decade old,’’ he said. “The irony is of course that the [much older] tunnel is fine. The piece that collapsed is less than a decade old.’’

Also, according to the Globe: Water authority spokeswoman Ria Convery said that the authority, working with the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, was able to reconfigure the water pipe lines in the Longwood Medical Area. That temporary fix allowed four major hospitals in the area — Children’s Hospital, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital — to go about business as usual, without having to resort to bottled water. These are premier medical institutions and, thank goodness, there is clean water for the patients and staff members there.

A colleague (and former doctoral student of mine), who is now a Visiting Scholar at UMass Amherst, and is a tenured faculty member at the University of Sydney in Australia, is spending this weekend in Boston. His wife arrived from Sydney at Logan this past Friday and since they had not seen each other since he began his sabbatical two months ago at the Isenberg School, they are spending this weekend in Boston. The weather has been glorious but without clean tap water, the store shelves have been emptied of bottled water and one has to be very careful about what one is drinking (and eating, frankly).

I do hope, for everyone's sake, that this huge problem is corrected as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. The themes of the Fragile Networks book that I co-authored with Patrick Qiang continue to make the news on a (much too) regular basis.