Sewer pipe breaks near Sudden Valley, boil water advisory issued

A sewer pipe broke near 2271 Lake Louise Road last week, causing thousands of gallons of wastewater to spill into nearby Beaver Creek.
A sewer pipe broke near 2271 Lake Louise Road last week, causing thousands of gallons of wastewater to spill into nearby Beaver Creek. rmittendorf@bhamherald.com

A spill caused by a break in a sewer pipe near Sudden Valley has created a potential health risk to residents who draw their drinking water directly from Lake Whatcom without treatment, according to a news release from the Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District.

A boil water advisory also has been issued – affected residents are advised to bring their water to a rolling boil for at least one minute before consuming, officials said. Those who get their water from Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District or the City of Bellingham do not need to boil their water.

Around 8 a.m. last Thursday, district crews noticed standing wastewater in a roadside ditch at the Beaver Sewer Pump Station, 2271 Lake Louise Road. Crews reported that wastewater was seeping out of the ground between the pump station and a ditch at a rate of 20 gallons per minute, according to the news release. The wastewater was rerouted and the leak was contained by 1 p.m. that day.

The water in the sewer force main went back to flowing normally around 9:30 p.m., the release indicated. About 6,000 gallons leaked, but it soaked into the ground and did not enter Lake Whatcom or surface water. Ditches were disinfected with chlorine.

A day later on Friday afternoon a resident called the district to report wastewater entering the roadside ditch at the same location. Crews stopped the spill by 5 p.m. Water was redirected to flow to another sewer force main and the ditch was again disinfected.

Some 45,000 gallons of water spilled into the ditch at a high flow rate because the pipe was pressurized. Officials believed the water traveled to a drainage that leads to Beaver Creek, which flows into Austin Creek, which then flows into Lake Whatcom.

Residents who were affected were notified on Thursday and Friday. City, county and state officials also were informed, said Patrick Sorensen, general manager of the Lake Whatcom Water and Sewer District.

Sections of pipe are fused together with what are called butt joints, Sorensen said. The pipe had essentially disintegrated in the area where it was fused together, causing the spill.

Sorensen said the pipeline was installed in 2002. The cause of the butt joint failure remains unknown, but Sorensen said he believes it was the result of a mistake made when the pipe was installed or a structural weakness that was already present. Because the line is pressurized, it likely placed strain on the butt joint that was already weak, he said.

“That’s when its time was up,” Sorensen said. “It had an aneurism is the best way I can describe it.”

Sorensen said he’s unsure how many people were affected by the spill, reiterating it was only people who draw their water straight from Lake Whatcom without treating it.

The repairs to the pipe are expected to cost between $12,000 and $15,000 and should be completed by Friday, Sorensen said. The boil water advisory will likely end that day.

The type of pipe was corrected in the story, photo caption and headline Oct. 12, 2017.

Denver Pratt: 360-715-2236, @DenverPratt