Ithaca, N.Y. — Two workers in Ithaca have spent Wednesday searching for a broken water main that is currently causing the city to lose 600 gallons of water per minute.

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The leak could be anywhere along a several mile stretch, leading to a search that could be expanded if not resolved soon, according to Erik Whitney, assistant superintendent of the Department of Public Works.

“It’s like a sleuth game: Identifying where that leak is,” Whitney says of the search, which began yesterday afternoon. “They’re going creek by creek, drainage system by drainage system.”

Ithaca has enough water to meet residents’ needs even with this current water main break. But it’s critical to repair this line because a similar problem, if unresolved and in the same area, could mean that residents no longer have water, according to Whitney.

“It’s alarming,” Whitney says. “We wouldn’t have the capacity if we had another break in the same system.”

Ithaca crews typically learn a leak’s location shortly after it occurs.

Today, for instance, the DPW was able to repair a rupture on Maple Avenue and will be working tomorrow on another on Elm Street near the Lehman Alternatives Community School. Over the weekend, crews fixed a broken water main on South Aurora Street.

This one, however, is different.

“Usually, leaks find us before we find them,” Whitney says. “This one hasn’t shown itself to us yet.”

The city knows that it is losing water at an “alarming” rate, Whitney says, because of measurements it is taking from the pumping station at the water plant.

But the location of the leak, as of Wednesday afternoon, was very much anyone’s guess. Unless they can find it, the water will continue to be wasted, according to Whitney.

Two workers are searching what the DPW calls its “Mitchell Street Zone,” which covers a chunk of South Hill, much of the “middle elevations” of East Hill and runs to the border of Cayuga Heights. That water line is “pretty much centered along Stewart Avenue,” Whitney says.

Photos from the DPW repair on Aurora Street on Monday. Courtesy of Mayor Myrick’s Facebook page

The city has 101 miles of total water main lines. The search area is smaller than that — Whitney didn’t have an exact estimate of the zone relevant to this break. The DPW workers will be looking for unusually high creek or storm drain flows.

“We are looking very hard,” Whitney says.

The DPW’s other staff members could be called in for a more vigorous search if the current effort proves fruitless. Ithaca firefighters and Ithaca police officers will also likely be alerted to be aware of unusual leaks or over-running water without a chance.

Whitney urged members of the public to keep an eye out as well.

“Look for water where it’s not supposed to be, or more water than usual, or the smell of chlorine by a creek or drainage,” Whitney says.


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.