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Old water pipe breaks, leaving Bellingham’s southside without running water

Got water in south Bellingham ?

A water main break in front of Varsity Village apartments on Donovan Avenue in Bellingham Thursday, August 11, 2017,left southside businesses, residents and Western Washington University without water on Friday afternoon.
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A water main break in front of Varsity Village apartments on Donovan Avenue in Bellingham Thursday, August 11, 2017,left southside businesses, residents and Western Washington University without water on Friday afternoon.

A massive water main break in the Happy Valley neighborhood left thousands residents without running water Friday afternoon.

Mocha-colored water gushed like a 2-foot-deep river from the broken pipe around noon at Donovan Avenue and 26th Street in the Happy Valley neighborhood. Up the hill Western Washington University lost running water throughout all of campus, as did many people in the surrounding neighborhoods.

On the north side of Donovan, water spilled over concrete paths and pooled into a temporary reservoir, Lake Donovan, in a parking lot closest to the break.

The 16-inch in diameter pipe is 91 years old, and it broke in that exact spot months ago, said Eric Johnston, assistant director of operations for Bellingham Public Works. The pipe was recently identified as at high risk for failure, Johnston said. It was scheduled to be replaced next year.

“Mother Nature beat us to the punch,” Johnston said.

Neighbors said the broken pipe spurted like a geyser until public works could cut off the pressure. One tenant, Dave Masson, 47, said his Labrador-Rottweiler mix, Zoey, 5, jumped into a deep pool of water that formed around the break.

“She was gone!” he said. “You couldn’t see her until her head popped up.”

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Workers attempt to unplug a drain at Varsity Village after a break in a large water pipe on the southside left businesses, residents and Western Washington University without water on Friday afternoon. Philip A. Dwyer pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Minutes later children waded knee-deep into the milky brown water, which Johnston said wasn’t much of a safety concern.

Running water at Western was restored around 1:30 p.m., when pressure built up again. Afterward some residents reported murky brown water coming from the tap, which could be fixed by running water for a few minutes, preferably through a large outflow like a hose, according to the city.

The water main was repaired by 6:30 p.m. Friday, but the system was still being flushed so service could be fully restored. Public Works expected homes on Donovan between 24th and 30th streets to be without water until about midnight.

In the meantime the city brought in portable toilets and bottled water for residents – as they have done at least three other times in the past three years, when a pipe broke in the same neighborhood.

The Bellingham Herald Business Editor Dave Gallagher contributed to this report.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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