Pipeline memories: In wake of explosion, crews worked hard to save Bellingham's water supply

One of the less well known stories of how greater disaster was averted during the initial hours after the explosion concerns how two savvy managers averted a major water outage for a lot of the city.

The pipeline break occurred just outside the water plant’s Dakin/Yew pump station, which supplies water to the reservoirs in Big Rock Garden and on Yew Street hill. Gasoline entered the pump station via several equipment vault drains. So when the explosion occurred, the gas in the pump station burned the wiring to each of the five 100hp pumps used to supply the Dakin/Yew pressure zones. Clayton Larson, who was responsible for the city’s water mains, and Ray Bailey, who was responsible for the pump stations that supply those mains, got their heads together and worked out a plan to supply water to the upper Yew street reservoir near Reveille Street with water pumped from the 38th Street pump station. They accomplished this by opening a cross over valve located on the ridge between Yew Street and the I-5 corridor. The 38th street pump station is supplied by the Otis street pump station and Otis is supplied by gravity from the water plant. Once they had water going into Upper Yew Street Reservoir, they had a check valve opened at the lower Yew street reservoir and pump station. This allowed the water which had been pumped over the hill to flow up to the reservoir at Big Rock Garden. Meanwhile, the fires had died out in the Dakin/Yew Pump station, so Kip Dunlap donned a safety harness and was lowered into the pump room to assess the condition of the pump motors. Luckily, while the fire had burned the PVC conduit, external wiring and control panel for the pumps, the pumps themselves did not appear beyond use. So cables were laid from the motor control center for the pumps, which is located in the water plant itself across the parking lot into the pump station. Clayton and Ray accomplished this by working from water maps laid out on a folding table and communicating with their respective crews via radio. The City’s water systems engineer, Geoff Smyth, oversaw and advised them in their activities. The Plant Operators, located at the Post Point wastewater plant, monitored the water levels in the various reservoirs. At one point just before Kip Dunlap got the Dakin Yew pumps back on line, the Upper Yew reservoir got down to 10 percent of its total capacity. Clayton and Ray have since retired from the City, Geoff Smyth has moved up to the Plants Division Superintendant and Kip Dunlap continues as a Maintenance Technician in the Plants Maintenance group. A lot of people, some City employees, and some not, came together to keep a disaster in check that evening.