Many Atascadero businesses and residents still without gas, hot water

An employees of The Gas Company, who declined to give his name, works on replacing water-filled gas meters with new meters at the Villa Atascadero apartment complex.
Photo by Joe Johnston 03-26-13
An employees of The Gas Company, who declined to give his name, works on replacing water-filled gas meters with new meters at the Villa Atascadero apartment complex. Photo by Joe Johnston 03-26-13 jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

There’s no definitive end in sight for most Atascadero homeowners and businesses that have been putting up with natural gas-related problems since Sunday morning.

According to Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) representative Rob Duchow, the initial number of properties that have been dealing with issues related to water mixed with their gas lines has been revised down to 750 customers from 1,000.

Affected customers either work or live in an area around the city’s downtown area that runs about a mile from El Camino Real north to Sycamore Road, and from Highway 41 to a half-mile west to Traffic Way.

John Neil, general manager for Atascadero Mutual Water Co., said an 8-inch waterline at the intersection of Entrada and Lewis avenues developed a hole and started blasting water, mixing with surrounding sand and gravel.

The high-pressured leak was located below a two-inch gas main, which sandblasted a rupture in the gas line.

The cause of the waterline leak is unknown and being investigated, but Neil said that waterlines in that area of town date to the 1920s, although much of the community’s water pipes were replaced from the 1960s to ’80s.

He said he’s contacted Mutual’s insurance carrier in the event that SoCalGas pursues a claim.

“The good news is that no one was injured,” said Neil. “It was an inconvenience (for the water to be off for several hours).

But although these systems work 99.9 percent of the time, they are subject to interruptions and people should have contingency plans if a water line goes out.”

In the event of an earthquake or other disruption of service, “This is a reminder: What are you going to do with yourself?”

That’s the question residents and business owners are asking as SoCalGas employees vacuum water from their meters and gas lines within homes and commercial buildings.

Although Colby Jack Cafe and Bakery in The Carlton Hotel were forced to close early Monday because of lack of hot water or heat, they were given the go-ahead to reopen around 2:30 Tuesday afternoon.

Down the street, Kitty Arosteguy, owner of Spa Central Coast and Haven Wine Bistro on El Camino Real, had to close Wine Bistro due to lack of hot water, but she was able to keep the spa open for massages and facials. The bistro was given the OK to open mid-afternoon Tuesday as well.

The Atascadero Unified School District offices, Atascadero Jr. High and the Fine Arts Academy are all located within the affected area. None of those educational facilities had to close their doors. Neither did Cuesta Medical Group on West Mall.

In the meantime, affected homeowners, in lieu of hot water at home, can pick up shower vouchers to Kennedy Club Fitness and, in some cases, food vouchers at the SoCalGas Lewis and Entrada command center.

"We've taken 5,000 gallons of water out of gas lines,"; said Duchow, ”and as of today (Tuesday), we're starting to withdraw water from gas meters at businesses and homes. If there’s water in meters, we dump it and vacuum out the riser, where the meter connects to the house, then on to gas lines in houses.”

Appliances that are gas-based, such as water heaters, dryers, stoves and furnaces can be ruined by water in gas lines. Duchow couldn’t say if a homeowner’s insurance policy would cover such damage.

“It’s really a matter of (cleaning) all of the lines,” he said. “Not until we’re sucking air through those lines will we know that the water’s all out. Our hope is that in the next day or so, we will restore service to some customers; that’s our goal.”

If a resident isn’t home when inspectors come by, a card will be left on the door explaining how to contact SoCalGas (661-699-5089) for an interior line cleaning and lighting of pilot lights.

“This is a safe situation,” Duchow stressed, “and we thank our customers for being very understanding. We’ve had very good experiences with them when we come knocking on their doors.