Rural Water Endures Blizzard to Find Leak that Left Two Communities Without Water

JAY VILLAGE, Maine – When a massive water leak drained the tanks of the Jay Village Water District and threatened to consume the supplies of the Livermore Falls Water District, experts from the Maine Rural Water Association worked through a blizzard to help locate the leak and restore water to the communities.

“I got the call on Monday,” explained MRWA Circuit Rider Peter Gautreau. “They told me they had a massive leak they couldn’t find and they’d been without water since Sunday.”

The leak had lowered the water level in the Jay Village tanks so that ice floating in the tank put pressure on a door and blew out the seals.

“They lost the entire tank,” Gautreau said. “They were in dire straits.”

Jay buys its water from the Livermore Falls Water District. The leak drew so much demand from Livermore Falls that is set off alarms at that utility.

“They throttled down the flow to Jay so they could maintain pressure,” Gautreau said.

The leak was estimated to be at least 800 gallons per minute. Still, they could not locate the leak, which showed no signs on the surface. The loss of pressure meant Jay Village was put on a boil water notice and forced Spruce Mountain Elementary School to cancel class.

The Circuit Rider spent the day using valves in the distribution system to isolate sections of the community and narrow down the location of the leak. He narrowed the search to a section of pipe between two valves near the Route 4 highway. He couldn’t locate the leak next to the busy highway.

Gautreau returned the next day with Circuit Rider Andy Gilson to try to locate the leak and make repairs. It had already snowed 18 inches.

“The snow made it very dangerous to be working on the road,” Gautreau said.

They advised the Jay Village utility on how to repair the seals on the water tank, then began searching for the leak with acoustic leak detection equipment. They searched for two hours, with the leak draining eight feet of water from the Livermore tanks, without finding the leak.

With more snow falling on the communities, new leaks opened in both Jay and Livermore. Gilson started locating those leaks, while Gautreau formulated a plan to locate the large Jay leak.

“At that point, our best bet was to have a contractor put in a valve halfway between our isolated valves to cut the distance in half,” Gautreau explained.

Contractors arrived Wednesday to install the valve, but opening the pipe only raised more questions.

“When they cut the pipe, it was full of water and with a leak that size, it should have been empty,” Gautreau said.

Gautreau and Gilson started widening their search for the leak, even drilling holes in the ground and using probes to search for water from the leak. They ultimately found an unknown valve.

“We ended up finding a mystery valve that was wide open, allowing the water to go to a dead-end road,” Gilson explained.

Once that valve was closed, they started backtracking through the system, isolating the leak and restoring water to the community. They restored service to 98% of the community, but still hadn’t located the massive leak.

It did narrow the possible location of the leak to a river crossing that supplied water to the Jay Village paper mill.

“It was one of the first things I asked,” Gautreau said. “To lose that much water and not have it show up, it was probably going into the river.”

Jay Village workers thought they had isolated the river crossing early in the process, but it looked like there was another valve that controlled flow to the river crossing. There was a meter pit near the river crossing that should help answer the question.

Thursday the Circuit Riders and Jay Village workers hiked through four feet of snow into a wooded area to locate the meter. Gautreau and Gilson used metal detectors to search for another valve. They located another unknown valve that controlled service to the river crossing. When that valve was opened, it was clear that the leak was in the river.

“You could see the water bubbling up in the river,” Gautreau said.

Despite several feet of snow and complications with finding valves, Rural Water’s assistance helped restore drinking water to most of the community and located the massive leak that lead to the emergency.