Living in Arizona and working in California, general contractor Bill Beckett knows just how precious water is. That's why he's not happy about the Green Valley Domestic Water Improvement District's response to a waterline break last week.
On July 20, Beckett called the water district after he saw water rushing down South Camino Panzo in the Desert Hills II neighborhood. He'd realized a crane had broken a water line while installing a rooftop air conditioning unit.
The district's answering service assured him an emergency crew would come out to repair the line, but the water was still cascading down the street Sunday morning, Beckett said. After making another call, Beckett said he was told by an answering service that the water district wouldn't be able to make repairs until Monday.
Beckett estimates 60,000 to 100,000 gallons of water poured out of the two-inch line by the time it was fixed midday Monday – enough to supply a two-person household for more than a year.
"To me, this whole thing is unconscionable," Beckett said. "It's obscene that much water was allowed to flow out into the desert. Water is precious out here. It's incredibly upsetting to a lot of the people in my neighborhood. We all have low-flush toilets."
Any time a contractor breaks a line in California, they pay for crews to come out and fix the problem immediately, he said.
Dara Duffy, district manager for the Green Valley Domestic Water Improvement District, said Beckett is blowing the incident out of proportion.
There is no way to estimate how much water was lost just looking at the water on the pavement, she said. The district's water rate for 1,000 gallons of water is $1.95, she said.
"I’m sure you heard a very dramatic story from the person who contacted you about how unresponsive we were, but we were actually on the ground within 15 minutes. We were well aware of it," she said.
The crane broke a two-inch irrigation line that was abandoned "a couple of decades ago" by a developer who failed to disconnect it, Duffy said. The line wasn't on a current set of prints of the area and it broke in an area that wasn't metered.
"There was no water flowing through it (before the accident). The line was off. They turned it off at the other end," Duffy said. "The irrigation part was eliminated, they tore out the sprinkler system apparently, but they left the supply line in place and it was closed and it just sat there. Then the crane apparently damaged the line right next to the water main and so an unmetered flow went through that."
To make the repair, they removed a two-inch piece of rusted galvanized pipe and put a threaded cap in its place so there is no way for water to go in that area again, Duffy said.
The employee who responded Saturday was unable to reach into the hole and clamp it because he couldn't feel the pipe, she said. He posted a sign telling neighbors the district was aware of the issue and called Arizona 811, Blue Stake Inc..
"We are required to call in Arizona 811 and have underground utilities marked and that is a minimum of 48 hours," Duffy said. "This was not considered an emergency because it was not an immediate risk to life or property. It was a small leak in the grand scale of things, though it does look quite dramatic."
The line was fixed by 11 a.m. Monday, she said.
Duffy said she spoke to Beckett on Monday and told him they couldn't declare it an emergency.
"I have to put everything into context," she said. "He was upset about the loss of a precious resource, but there are more resources to consider in the response to a leak, such as financial resources."
In the end, Duffy said it was "kind of a routine thing that was best handled Monday when full staff could be available to address it."
Beckett said any engineer would be able to estimate the water loss from a two-inch line over a given period of time. He also said he never saw anyone from Arizona 811 despite watching for them.
"That's a dodge on her part. You can come out here and there's not a mark on the ground," Beckett said.
The voice mail box for Arizona 811's media department was full all week. Emails to the company went unanswered.