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Monday, November 30, 2009

City Dwellers Doused as Water Department Flushes Fire Hydrants

Posted By on Mon, Nov 30, 2009 at 7:30 AM

click to enlarge Jed's a millionaire! - JOE ESKENAZI
  • Joe Eskenazi
  • Jed's a millionaire!

Conversation in the line for a chi-chi Mission Bay taqueria was dampened the other day when, a few yards off, a city water department employee hooked what appeared to be an oversize cowbell to the fire hydrant. Before anyone could make a "more cowbell" joke, a torrent of water blasted out of the device, forcing the stylish patrons awaiting their overpriced fare to leap like Mexican jumping beans, lest their footwear be doused.

Then the water department employee kicked back and let the torrent run, full-bore, for well longer than anyone should spend on a lunch break.

This scene was re-enacted throughout Mission Bay in recent days; green and white water department trucks idled, sometimes for as long as three hours, while thousands upon thousands of gallons of water were sent rushing into the drains.

Since one of the better parts of our job is the ability to approach people and ask "what's all this then?" -- we did. And we got an answer. Sort of.

click to enlarge Large amounts of Perrier fired down the drain - JOE ESKENAZI
  • Joe Eskenazi
  • Large amounts of Perrier fired down the drain
When a city employee rigs up a cowbell device to the hydrant and re-enacts the climactic scenes from Deliverance -- the rafting scenes, not the "Squeal Like a Pig" scenes -- it's "unidirectional flushing."

In other words, according to multiple water department employees we spoke with, they're draining the hydrants to make sure sedimentation doesn't build up in the University Mound System -- the city's second biggest system of water mains -- to ensure particles don't gum up the firehoses.

"Hetch Hetchy water is the best in the world -- but it's unfiltered," said one worker -- who passed the hours (literally hours) of watching the best water in the world flow down the drain by playing Eric Clapton concert videos on his onboard computer.

After 20 minutes, half an hour, or even several hours, another water department employee would show up, run some manner of sedimentation test on the fire hose effluvia, and the torrent would be shut off. We noticed complicated scientific instruments in the trunk of one of these guys' car -- but as soon as we started asking questions he shut that thing faster than Repo Man. Our calls to the head of the water department have, thus far, been unanswered.

But here are the first two questions we're going to ask: Is it really necessary to run these hydrants at full blast for two or three hours to get rid of the sedimentation? And how much water is that?

In the meantime, we're hop-scotching over the puddles.  

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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