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Cause And Repair Cost Estimate Of Dayton Water Outage Still Unknown

Dayton Water Great Miami River

Dayton water officials say they’re waiting for high river levels to drop before they can determine the cause of a massive water main break more than a week ago.

The break in a pipe under the Great Miami River affected residents and businesses across the region and led to the loss of millions of gallons of treated drinking water.

It’s unclear when crews would be able to complete evaluations of the water main rupture.

Recent rainfall and snowmelt have raised Great Miami River levels, says Dayton Water Department Director Michael Powell, and the difficult conditions are hampering inspections.

“In order for us to be able to fully assess what the damage is, what occurred and to develop a game plan to repair it we need to see it. So, we need the levels to come down somewhat so that we'll be able to get in,” he says. "We'd like to be able to see it inspect it before we can determine exactly what needs to be done."

Powell says once the river falls low enough for crews to get a safe look, they’ll begin planning repairs and tallying expenses related to the emergency.

As the city worked overnight after the break to locate the leak, Powell says officials initially increased pumping, which led to more water leaking out.  

"We consciously decided to pump more water in order to be able to find that but we felt that doing that would, in the long run, reduce the total amount of water that was being lost if we were able to find it quicker," he says. 

Other overall financial costs associated with the water outage could include additional energy usage, lost water-treatment chemicals and increased personnel and staff work hours. 

The break happened Wednesday, Feb. 13 along a three-foot concrete pipe west of the Keowee Street Bridge, quickly affecting thousands of Dayton and Montgomery County residents.

Water department crews contained the leak within 14 hours.

By then, officials say more than 100 million gallons of treated water were lost.

Ohio GOP Sen. Rob Portman told WYSO more needs to be done to prevent future water main breaks that waste water and disrupt the region’s economy.

“Ohio has a lot of aging infrastructure, particularly in some of our cities like Dayton, older communities, and some of its water that you don't see but it’s crumbling, just like the roads and bridges might be crumbling. So, we do need to provide more federal help there,” Portman says.

The senator’s office says Dayton could be eligible for assistance to repair its aging water system infrastructure through a special loan program passed as part of the Water Resources Development Act, signed into law by the Trump administration in October.

City Manager Shelley Dickstein last week said the city would tap its $15 million infrastructure reserve fund to fund repairs and avoid rate hikes for water customers.

The cost of maintaining water infrastructure in Ohio has been estimated at $12 billion over the next two decades.

Jess Mador comes to WYSO from Knoxville NPR-station WUOT, where she created an interactive multimedia health storytelling project called TruckBeat, one of 15 projects around the country participating in AIR's Localore: #Finding America initiative. Before TruckBeat, Jess was an independent public radio journalist based in Minneapolis. She’s also worked as a staff reporter and producer at Minnesota Public Radio in the Twin Cities, and produced audio, video and web stories for a variety of other news outlets, including NPR News, APM, and PBS television stations. She has a Master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York. She loves making documentaries and telling stories at the intersection of journalism, digital and social media.
Jerry began volunteering at WYSO in 1991 and hosting Sunday night's Alpha Rhythms in 1992. He joined the YSO staff in 2007 as Morning Edition Host, then All Things Considered. He's hosted Sunday morning's WYSO Weekend since 2008 and produced several radio dramas and specials. In 2009 Jerry received the Best Feature award from Public Radio News Directors Inc., and was named the 2023 winner of the Ohio Associated Press Media Editors Best Anchor/News Host award. His current, heart-felt projects include the occasional series Bulletin Board Diaries, which focuses on local, old-school advertisers and small business owners. He has also returned as the co-host Alpha Rhythms.
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