Another Water Main Cracked in WRF Trenching Operation

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

December 2, 2021

Morro Bay’s Water Recycling Facility continues its dance with Mr. Murphy after a second water line was recently broken on Quintana Road.

Morro Bay Utilities Division Manager, Joe Mueller, told Estero Bay News that they were notified by one of the contractors on the WRF’s conveyance system on Saturday, Nov. 30 that water was running down Quintana at Kings Street, the general area where the main contractor, Anvil of San Francisco, has been trenching to install the WRF project’s bundle of sewer mains and water lines that will stretch when completed from the old sewer plant on Atascadero Road, up Main Street and out Quintana to South Bay Boulevard.

The piping will turn left on South Bay and continue up to the new treatment plant site on a hillside above the terminus of South Bay.
“Staff responded,” Mueller said, “and found a crack in a 6-inch main waterline that runs from Quintana up Kings Street. This waterline is in a trench that Anvil had just backfilled and compacted on Thursday the 28th.”

The City crew dug out the water line and replaced a small section of it, Mueller said, “and was able to leave the line insolated and turned off, for there are no customers on that section of line and had no adverse effects due to looping of the water system.”

On Monday, Nov. 1, Anvil reportedly filled and re-compacted the trench where the repair was made. The City turned the water back on three days later and a second leak was detected on the same water line about 4-feet past where the first leak was fixed, Mueller said.

Anvil fixed the second leak, he said, and City staff inspected the repair and placed the line back in service. “While the leak occurred near Anvil’s work area and trenching,” Mueller explained, “this waterline is not part of the project work.”
“It is possible,” he added, “that the leaks could have been caused by Anvils backfill and compaction methods.”
In any event, the City has kept track of its time and expenses and will submit a bill to the project manager.

“In this case the Cities project manager will determine if Anvil is responsible for the leak and if the City should be reimbursed. Minimal water was lost and the damage was similar to leaks that naturally occur over time throughout the city on this type of pipe material.”

This latest mishap follows a number of other snags and SNAFUs the WRF project has experienced. In May 2020 a landslide on the treatment plant site caused a huge headache for the contractors — Filanc/Black & Veatch, which has since been dealing with shifting land for many months, an issue that is expected to cost the project over $1 million.

On the first day of trenching, Anvil hit a water main at Quintana and La Loma that sent water gushing 20-feet into the air. City crews responded to fix that leak but before the dirt had settled, an above ground sewer bypass line that Anvil had installed at Lift Station No. 3 (near Quintana and South Bay) was bumped into by a worker on a piece of machinery and the pipe was sliced open, spilling sewage onto the roadway. The City crew also fixed that leak.

The project saw a third brush with Murphy’s Law in early August when a massive tunneling project to run pipes 35-feet underneath the Roundabout, hit some kind of snag that bogged down the 5-foot diameter boring machine, bringing that portion of the project to a halt.

Anvil’s subcontractor, Vadnais Trenchless, dug a deep pit near the digging head to investigate what was bogging down their machine, which digs with some 300,000 pounds of force.

After about 6 weeks, Vadnais started work again and the boring machine quickly punched through to a receiving hole on Las Tunas Avenue, next to the Morro Bay Coffee Co. They never did figure out what had obstructed the tunneling operation.
And there could be another Murphy’s Law mishap in the future, as the City has determined that it will need to remove more trees — beyond the 24 removed so far — along the Power Plant Bike Path.

Public Works Director, Greg Kwolek said they were still putting together a report on the additional trees that will have to be removed in anticipation of notifying the Coastal Commission of the change.

The Commission staff in Santa Cruz has been closely monitoring the tree removals and the City has gotten their OK when it’s needed to remove more trees than originally planned in the project’s coastal development permit.
So far, the commission staff has okayed the additional three removals emphasizing that they must be replaced with native species of trees and in an area close to where they came out.

The City staff plans to submit a tree replanting plan to the City Council for approval sometime after the first of the year. Every tree they remove will be replaced with a new tree.

Also, the WRF pipeline construction underway on Main Street was approved by the City to proceed, the City said in its regular project update, and the contract requirement that would have prevented work in this area during the holiday season was waived.
“While allowing the work to occur on Main Street was an inadvertent oversight,” the City said, “the City will not allow the contractor to work on Quintana Road between Main Street and Morro Bay Boulevard during the holiday season from Nov. 1 to Jan. 15.”

The work restrictions were waived with the understanding that two-way traffic on Main Street will be maintained at all times, the City said.

“The City and project team are continuing to evaluate the current traffic control configuration at Main Street as the contractor progresses the work toward the access road to the bike path to make sure that they are conducting the work as safely as possible for the contractor and the motoring public. Consequently, the team is discussing restoring the stoplight on normal phase [red-yellow-green] for the weekends, as long as the traffic control is set up to permit this to happen safely.”

The stoplight at Main and Quintana has been on set to “flashing red” in all directions for many weeks, which at times has caused major backups on Main towards Downtown.

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