Skip to content

Water main break floods Fourth

Damage: A resident on disability pension left in a dilemma.
Destruction: Water churns through a driveway in the 100 block of Fourth Street SE after a water main break on June 3.

For James Bessette and Stacey Black, it was the kind of give and take they could have done without.

They live at 130 Third St. SE.

On Tuesday, June 3, Bessette paid property taxes at city hall. Later that day, a city water main on Fourth Street SE behind First United Church broke, ruining their grassy backyard. The yard filled with water while rivers ran under a newly built shed. Pressure from the water popped out one of the windows in their basement.

“I go down there and pay my few thousand dollars of taxes, then the yard floods and they don’t care,” he remarked.

Black agrees.

“It does still suck as we’re on the hook for costs and it’s probably something the city should have been a little bit more on the ball with getting done.”

Bessette says it appears they may be the only people on Third Street whose property was affected. On Fourth Street SE, it’s a different story. About four homes were hit.

John McGinn, who has rented a house there for about three years and lives on a disability allowance, may have been harder hit than anyone.

Water rushed across his neighbour’s driveway, carrying gravel and dirt onto the lawn in his backyard. A river of water washed into his basement, filling it with about two-and-a-half feet of water.

The city pumped out the basement, but he says he’s on his own for the rest.

His landlord is in Africa and he can’t reach her sister, who is apparently living in town.

His washing machine and dryer were wrecked by the water and now sit, broken, in his backyard.

His hot water tank and furnace were shut off and remain so, a week later. He’s been told a licensed contractor is needed to decide if they are safe.

“I can’t afford a licenced contractor – I  can barely afford to eat,” he said, noting he went to social services who gave him an emergency number to call. There he was told that if a river was running through, they could help him but, because it is not, there is nothing they can do.

So McGinn hasn’t been able to shower or wash dishes or clothes for a week. Because he has a back injury, he hasn’t been able to move some of the flooded belongings. He also needs a truck to move some of the damaged goods, and his home is starting to smell musty. He also will have to remove the gravel from the backyard.

“I don’t know what to do. I have to somehow end up getting a washer and dryer, and somehow get my water heater and furnace going again... I just want the necessities of life again, that’s all.”

Rob Niewenhuizen, the city’s director of engineering and public works, said the connection from the hydrant to the water main was the problem.

“It’s an old asbestos concrete line, an a-c line, so we replace those lines when we have funding. We’ve got a number of lines around the community that we have identified for replacement and this one was actually identified for being replaced this year. We had it designed last year and we were going to do the work in the fall,” he said.

“Unfortunately, you can’t time these things, so the water main will be replaced this year. And we hadn’t had any breaks on that line before, it was basically some service leaks.”

He explained service leaks are where the line from the home comes to the main.

Niewenhuizen noted two new developments nearby have meant more use on the line.

“So we thought it would be a good line to put into our replacement program.”

As for fault, Niewenhuizen said cities are typically not held responsible for water main breaks.

“As long as we have programs in place to maintain and replace our water mains, we can’t be expected to replace all of them, because we don’t know when...”


Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
Read more