A construction crew using a backhoe at Vandenberg Air Force Base damaged a water main pipeline that left the installation without water for several hours while airmen worked through the night to make repairs.
Lt. Col. Lefty Pakulski, acting deputy commander of the 30th Civil Engineer Squadron, said Wednesday afternoon that a construction contractor “mistakenly damaged” an 8-inch pipe by hitting it with a backhoe at the intersection of Nebraska and South Dakota streets near the base medical clinic.
“It’s very old pipe,” Pakulski said. ‘It’s probably 1960s-era pipe based on what it’s made of.”
He couldn’t estimate when the base water services would be fully restored.
“We really don’t know a timeline just yet,” Pakulski said Wednesday afternoon. “We are just now wrapping up the repair effort and being able to ask our bioenvironmental folks to go out and sample the water.”
Once his crews completed the repair, they monitored the fix to make sure it wasn’t leaking — “and it’s holding very well,” according to Pakulski.
The incident led to all water being shut off at Vandenberg for a time overnight and then an advisory Wednesday morning that base residents and personnel should use bottled water or boil tap water for at least a minute before using it for cooking or drinking.
“Due to the recent water outage on Vandenberg AFB, Bioenvironmental Engineering in conjunction with Civil Engineering is advising all Base personnel and residents to use boiled tap water or bottled water for drinking and cooking purposes as a safety precaution. Until further notice, continue to boil your water for at least one minute prior to use,” according to a 30th Space Wing post Wednesday morning on Facebook.
The boil order came was simply a precaution, according to Staff Sgt. Herry Belen, a bioenvironmental technician at Vandenberg.
“There is no contaminant. We sent the boil water notice as a precaution,” Belen said.
Bioenvironmental technicians must collect samples, send them off to a lab and await results before ensuring the water is compliant with state standards.
After the pipe broke, it took some time to shut down the water since civil engineer crews had to perform several valve operations to isolate the section of affected pipe, Pakulski said.
“We had a crew of four to six very heroic airmen from our utilities shop who did spend the entire night shutting down the water, putting the full circle clamp on the pipe which they successfully did around 4:30 this morning,” Pakulski said Wednesday.
With the focus on making the repair, he said officials don’t know how much water was lost due to the broken pipeline.
“At some point we will try to figure out how much water was lost. It’s a very small percentage of our daily consumption, probably less than two percent or something like that,” Pakulski said.
The incident didn’t delay crews working to ready for next week’s Atlas 5 rocket launch from Space Launch Complex-3 on South Base, Pakulski added.
“The real disruption was to food service, child care and residents of our dormitories,” Pakulski said.
The water trouble meant several eateries on base, including the Pacific Coast Club and Burger King, were shut down Wednesday. Breakers Dining Facility served meal-card holders and mission essential personnel.
Officials with the 30th Force Support Squadron said the Vandenberg Child Development Center and the Youth Center closed Wednesday. The Youth Center expected to reopen Thursday, while the CDC’s will remain closed until water is deemed safe to consume.
The 30th Medical Group facility was closed Wednesday but was expected to reopen Thursday and stay open until noon.