By C.C. Wilson III

Piedmont Hospital cancelled elective surgeries and non-emergency procedures and scores of restaurants along Peachtree Road between Deering Road and Peachtree Creek faced early closures March 12 after the city’s Department of Watershed Management sprang a late-afternoon surprise that area service would go dry by 6 p.m. that evening.

City water and fire officials canvassed area businesses while contractors made emergency repairs to water valves near Piedmont Hospital at the corner of Peachtree and Collier roads.

“The repairs were necessary because of low water pressure at the hospital as a result of a main break,” according to a Department of Watershed Management media release on its Web site. “The work will necessitate an interruption of water service overnight. Customers may want to fill their bathtubs in order to have water to flush toilets and have bottled water on hand for drinking and personal hygiene” the notice read.

The problem was that many of the businesses in the area, including restaurants, didn’t get the message early enough to make their own emergency arrangements.

The good news was that the repairs did not take as long as forecast. So service shutoff began at 8 p.m. rather that the planned 6 p.m., and water service was restored around 2 a.m. the next morning, rather than the forecast 6 a.m.

Watershed Management spokesperson Janet Ward said a Piedmont Hospital contractor doing work around the main campus pulled a two-inch line from the water main causing the leak.

When city water workers responded to repair the main, the valve – installed in 1917 – that feeds the main lines broke. According to Ward, it was the broken valve that caused the delay in resorting water service, not the broken main.

“It was an emergency situation,” said Ward. “We didn’t have a week to send out letters.”

Ward added that water department workers began calling local businesses and residents that same morning and an automated voice recording also was phoned to all listed numbers in the affected areas.

Piedmont Hospital officials coordinated a water main bypass from Peachtree Road to Collier Road so intake service would remain at operational levels, said hospital public relations manager Diane Lewis.

The bypass gave the hospital just enough water pressure, around 40 PSI from a required 145 PSI, to keep the air filtration system running, Lewis said. And city fire trucks were standing by to pump water into Piedmont’s water intake system while two-deep rows of portable toilets were set up at the main entrance and behind the hospital so patients and visitors had restroom access.

Meantime, Piedmont’s top floors, which include a dialysis clinic, were shut down while patients were sent to nearby facilities, Lewis said.

At no time were patients in danger and all other procedures that evening were completed as scheduled, Lewis said.

Adjacent to the hospital, at 1931 Peachtree Road, the news came too little too late for Black Bear Tavern managing partner Mark Ferguson, whose staff learned of the water stoppage by TV news crews and reporters.