September 27, 2012

Editorial: Expertise saves the day


---- — Did you ever stop to think of what happens when a water main breaks in any community? It's a plumbing problem — but a big plumbing problem. And two of our municipalities had to deal with very big ones recently.

As with most plumbers, the crews went to work, armed with a thorough knowledge of the problem at hand and how to deal with it.

One of the difficulties here is that, whereas most plumbers fix the same problems day after day, when you work for a city or village, the problems are often unusual — sometimes, unique. Huge water mains don't give way every day. When they do, it's an anomaly. The fact that crews know how to assail them so quickly and surely is a credit to the people who run and staff our departments of Public Works.

The City of Plattsburgh and Village of Rouses Point had the misfortune to confront these crises within days of each other. It's not that they'd never done it before and had to look up procedures before hitting the pavement. Breaks do happen, and, fortunately for the populations of those areas, the crews had plenty of expertise to get right to work with repairs.

But even knowing where to start digging can be a puzzle. There is plenty of force behind that water that is bubbling up somewhere, and the actual break can be almost anywhere.

And the pipes aren't like the pipes under the kitchen sink. They are enormous tubes that must be handled carefully but quickly to restore service to a community that very badly needs it — now.

In the case of Plattsburgh's break, industries, a college and a hospital could be relying on that water. What a calamity it would be if the CVPH Medical Center couldn't, for hours, get all the water it needed. What if Georgia-Pacific — a paper manufacturer — lost all its water for a good share of the day?

Meanwhile, traffic has to be rerouted, and residents must be told they have to boil any water they're going to use until further notice. How do you get that life-saving information to people — and which people, exactly, are going to be affected?

All these and many more concerns had to be taken into account while the crews dug up and replaced or repaired the broken pipes. In these cases, ground had to be put back into place and pavement restored.

This time, the crews were lucky it wasn't sub-zero weather out. That's about the only good side of the recent emergencies, but it's a significant one.

Plattsburgh and Rouses Point residents were left high and dry for only a short time, thanks to the stellar work of their Public Works departments. Those residents should resist the temptation to grumble about the inconvenience and instead offer a pat on the back for how expertly and how quickly service was restored.