Water Isolation FAQs

For both internal and external customers, when planning system water improvements, please allow approximately 30 calendar days for DC Water to be able to schedule a planned shut.   Please note that this is our target schedule.   Occasionally in an older part of the District that has especially older infrastructure, additional time may be needed to schedule a planned shut.

Before construction work starts, DC Water wants to ensure that the water can safely be controlled and that all of the valves used to isolate the system are fully functional.   

Staff in our Operations Control Center identify valves and create a valve plan that is used by field techs to check the valves. For a test shut, the valves are assessed and the main is isolated but generally the water is only off for a short period of time (two or less hours on average). Due to the complexity of the shut, multiple test shuts may be needed before Operations staff know that the system can be isolated successfully and the “Planned shut” may be scheduled.

A “planned shut” is when the water system is isolated for a system maintenance. This is identical to a test shut, but the duration will be much longer (generally six to eight hours). 
Customers are notified before test and planned shuts 48 hrs in advance.

Or In other words why does it take so long to have the planned shut approved?

The water infrastructure in the District of Columbia is quite old, with a median age of 78 years for the 1,350 miles of water mains. Before DC Water will schedule a planned shut staff performs a ‘test shut’ to determine how many valves are needed for the isolation.   Test shuts allow DC Water to 
•    understand the impact of the isolation (who will be without water) when the actual work is performed
•    minimizes the time the construction crew has to be onsite waiting for the shut to be completed.
•    Helps to ensure that once the construction work occurs, the work conditions are safe because the water flow is controlled
Test shuts are planned and the community is notified of the shut.   When the test shut is performed, valves are assessed.   If the test shut is successful, the planned shut is then approved to be scheduled.  If the test shut is unsuccessful, system repairs may be needed and at least one additional test shut will be required.  This work may add time to the 30 day window between when a planned shut is requested and when it can be scheduled.
Also due to critical customers (hospitals, hotels, commercial districts, etc)  in the District – test shuts and planned shuts may have limited windows for testing (weekends or late evenings) to accommodate critical customers.   The difficulty in scheduling the shuts may in certain situations add time to the scheduling window.

Any time the work involves an outside improvement or repair an operatable pump shall be onsite.   The average age of our valves is approximately 80 years old.  Some of these valves due to age and expected wear will close but not fully.   When this happens some water may pass to the construction site  and a pump will help to redirect the flow.
Anything over 12-inch main needs to have a 3-inch pump.   When critical areas in the distribution system are identified, a 6-inch pump may be needed.
Potable water shall be dechlorinated.  Please contact DC Department of Environment (DDOE) for more information.

A “Planned Shut” is related to planned construction activities.   With these shuts, to minimize service disruption test shuts are performed.  A planned shut involves successfully completing a test shut and then scheduling the planned shut.  Customers are notified before both test and planned shuts.

 An “Emergency Shut” is exactly as it sounds; they are to stop the water flowing when there is a water system emergency.  Operations staff operate the system to ensure that the water stops flowing, the pipe can be cut and the trench is relatively dry and safe for the maintenance staff.  For emergencies, there is no time for “test shuts”; does operates the valves needed to ensure the water is off and the main can be safely repaired.  In most cases there is not time to notify customers of the outage ahead of time.

Our repair and replacement work often require water shut offs, as it is necessary to isolate the broken or aging main because we cannot have water flowing through the pipes during this process. On average most of the water shut-offs last no longer than 8 hours. However, there are instances where the repairs take longer due to the severity of breaks or the need for additional equipment or parts, but we do our best to complete them as soon as possible.  Some repairs are planned and depending on the situation, some are emergency in nature.

During scheduled water main replacement work, impacted residents receive door hanger notifications a minimum of 48 hours in advance. The notice informs the resident of the work to occur, the duration of the water shut off, what to expect, and whom to contact in case of an emergency. This information is also provided to the area Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners (ANC), Ward Council Members Office and the Mayor's Office of Community Relations and Services (MOCRS).

However, there are instances when we are unable to notify residents of water shut offs, these are typically during emergencies. Although, we do our best to provide notification of water shut offs during the case of emergencies such as faulty valve and water main breaks, etc we are not always able to do so. We often have to prioritize the use of staff resources towards the repair of the water main and are unable to provide notification.

DC Water is currently implementing an alert notification system to inform customers about interruptions to their water service via telephone, text, and/or email. This is a pilot program for residents impacted by development projects in specific areas of the city. If the pilot program is successful, we would plan to implement the notification system to residents throughout the city.

For more information about our water main repair and replacements please contact:

Emergency Command Center

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