An Atascadero water main burst the morning of March 24, and the stream of pressurized water ate its way through a natural gas line maintained by Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas). Water flooded the system and caused a gas outage for 733 downtown customers that remained mostly unresolved as of press time.
“I have a 5-year-old son that I had to give a microwave sponge bath to,” customer Elizabeth Klessig said. “We had to do a makeshift dinner. It was just awful.”
Klessig and other customers reported that the gas company offered vague timetables for the return of services.
According to an e-mail from SoCalGas spokesperson Denise King, the uncertain schedule for return of service was a product of the utility’s need to completely desiccate the system.
“It is very important that all water is safely removed from our pipelines,” King wrote.
Soon after reports of the outage surfaced, the Atascadero Mutual Water Company managed to quickly isolate the leak using its valve system, so only a few homes lost water service. However, SoCalGas had to excavate to manually crimp shut the damaged gas lines, according to Atascadero Mutual General Manager John Neil.
Maintenance crews spent three days flushing several thousand gallons of water from the gas lines. SoCalGas expects it will need to inspect all affected homes and businesses and replace hundreds of gas meters before restoring service.
Neil said the water company is investigating the cause of the burst pipe.
“One lesson to be learned here is that these utilities work well 99.9 percent of the time, but people should be prepared because there will be disruption in service,” Neil said.