Water main issues plague city

City shuts down part of highway


A portion of Highway 12 was closed Tuesday while the city of Baker addressed a water main break on the west side of town.

Baker City Road Superintendent Luke Holestine called it a detriment of the city’s ailing, 60-year-old infrastructure.

The water main break occurred about three blocks west of the intersection of Highway 12 and 7, adjacent to Cenex and the Prairie Manor apartment complex.

While the general location of the leak was isolated, Holestein said Tuesday that the exact spot couldn’t be determined.

“We were concerned that it was under the apartment buildings,” he explained, but the city hired some “listeners” who utilized underground sonar to help pinpoint the leak. Though it’s precise location still couldn’t be decided.

“We weren’t able to pinpoint that leak in a close enough proximity for me to justify digging up the highway,” Holestine said. Considering it is close to 12 inches thick of asphalt and concrete, making such a call to tear up the road would be a costly one if unjustified.

Instead, Holestine said the city contacted a professional leak detector to make the final call.

The detector hooks up to the primary valves in the water mains and sends messages back and forth. “About 20-30 minutes later, you can tell where that water leak is within an inch,” he confirmed.

Baker employed the same method a few years ago.

Until the leak detector can examine the current situation, which Holestine pen Monday, the area of Highway 12 would be closed to traffic.

It wasn’t of dire concern to residents, however, as Holestine said it hasn’t even affected water pressure within the city.

“It’s equivalent to a garden hose being left on right now,” he said.

But the continuous leaks call into question the city’s aging infrastructure. Most of Baker’s main lines are dated by at least 60 years or more. Holestine said the city is exploring different avenues to obtain funding for a revamp of the system.

The region’s extreme summers then bitter winters have wreaked havoc on the city’s lines.

“Frost levels change and 60 years later there’s a lot of wear-and-tear on those pipe being six feet under the ground,” he said.

But it’s more than just water lines that present a problem for the city.

Recently a resident near Baker Lake noticed that about 250 cubic yards of the lake had thawed.

The concerned resident contacted Holestine in fear that there was a water leak melting the ice. While that could have been the case if there was a massive source of warmer water flowing into the cold water, Holestine said there was no sign of a leak at the lake.

“To get it to the thawing point, you’d have to have a leak that was substantial,” he said. “We couldn’t find anything of the sort.”

Focus then shifted to the three individual springs, each in a different location, which could have reopened under the frozen surface, as they had historically.

“But none were near that section of the lake,” Holestine said.

So it was the final prognosis, as Holestine put it, that with the locally heavy snow, the intense weight broke a big section from the cove. A 250-cubic-yard piece of the lake’s surface then tilted and water crept up and starting thawing the ice.

“It has since frozen back, and is technically hard,” Holestine said.