Broken Water Main at Midnight

Well, it wasn’t quite midnight. It was around 10.30 p.m. when I heard noises that sounded like construction trucks somewhere in our neighborhood. Curious, I went out to investigate. A man was putting out a couple of traffic cones on Christopher Drive, and I asked him what was going on. “Broken water main,” he said.

Near where Christopher meets Crestmont, a huge light stood on the sidewalk, a van was parked near the middle of the road, and an excavator was grabbing dirt from a hole in the road and pouring it into a dump truck. A team of six men and a woman from SFWD were at work. They’d been there earlier, he said, but they had to go to another job and finish that first. “We could be here all night. It’s hard to say.” I took some photographs, staying out of the way. They were amused, but friendly when I explained it was for the neighborhood blog. I’ve written about a broken water main before, also in winter. This looked to be even bigger than that one.

“We thought we’d found the leak,” one of the men said, “But now it looks like it’s further down the road.” The excavator extended the trench, the teeth biting into the asphalt. The hole was brimming with brown muddy water. They connected a  pump to a hose, and started pumping it out in a brown gush of water that streamed down the slope. As the level fell, we could see where the leak was roiling the surface at the furthest end of the trench.

They moved the excavator over, edging carefully between the hole and a parked car, and dug some more. Soon they had the leak exposed.

As the water drained, the leak turned into a fountain, rising maybe 20 feet into the air. I could see the crack in the pipe. Now all they had to do was to put a collar on it.

Easier said than done, of course. One man put on a raincoat and gumboots and climbed into the hole, digging around to free the pipe. Soon, three of them were trying to clear the space round the pipe and position the collar over a crack that was gushing a 20-foot fountain under pressure.

I left around 11.30 p.m., and they were hard at work. Around 2 a.m., I stepped outside, and heard some banging and rattling. I hoped they were packing up to leave.


Thank you to the team for being out there mucking around in muddy water on a cold winter night when most of us are asleep, keeping our water system working.

And thank you, all the workers who provide and maintain the services that are part of civilization: running water, power, clean streets, garbage pick-up, communications, safety, emergency services, fire fighting.

Happy New Year, All!

On the street and at our feet

The pink paint marking the drains, and the broken water main a few months ago, drew attention to all the stuff that’s happening below our streets. So the other day, we wandered around with our cameras pointing at all the circles and rectangles on the sidewalk. There were a lot of them: a wealth of services beneath our feet, representing civilization, urban comfort, and the conveniences of Forest Knolls. It’s strange to think we’re only a couple of generations away from fetching water from wells, using outhouses, and lighting our nights with candles and our streets with gas.


It was an interesting mix of covers. This grating was like a piece of modern art, with the ladder reaching down to a reflective circle of water below. At first, it appeared to be a drain of some sort… but it’s got the words  PG&E and “High Voltage.”

High Voltage

Another “High Voltage” cover was more prosaic, a simple concrete rectangle.

PG&E high voltage


In fact, quite a few covers on the street were from PG&E. This manhole cover with a nice geometric design seems to be, though it’s difficult to know which cover does what. (If anyone knows, leave a comment! Or email us at


Another whole bunch were from the Water Department. (The sewer cover’s included here, though it’s actually labeled SFDPW.)

SFWD, Two covers

SFDPW sewer

The little square with holes in it is most probably a drain cover.

Scott Co (drain cover?)

But the handsomest cover on the street is a cast iron oval with the Golden Gate Bridge on it, labeled San Francisco Water Department Meter Box. Wonder when it was made? Some time in the 1950s, when Forest Knolls was built?

SFWD meter box


And then there’s the Telephones.  And the TV Cable. And  the Survey Monument, which doesn’t represent a utility but instead helps put us on the map and define the lots on which our homes are built.  And the Street Lights. And “Electrical” again, but it’s not clear what and why, though it may be connected with the Street Lights since the covers are together and next to a lamp post.

Survey Monument
Telephone (with graffiti?)
TV Cable


Street Lighting

And then there was this odd-looking pair of covers labeled PT-T. Anyone know what they are?

Pacific Telephones and Telegraph

.Edited to Add: PT-T probably stands for Pacific Telephones and Telegraphs… (see the comment to this post – Thanks, Laura).

Or why X marks the spot on this sewer-cover?

X marked sewer

Edited to Add: Just saw this — the moss has picked out “Bell System” on this cover.

After the rain, moss picks out BELL SYSTEM