Water tank collapse still a mystery

Columbus Water Works executives have begun the lengthy process of determining why a 6-million gallon storage tank collapsed early Saturday morning.

The failure of the open-air tank at the water treatment facility off River Road still has the utility’s officials scratching their heads.

“The first thing we need to do is figure out what happened,” Water Works President Bob Tant said Monday afternoon. “...We are looking for answers, but we are not going to speculate or suppose. We will get the answers, and when we have them we will make them public.”

No one was seriously injured in the collapse, which happened about 4 a.m.

The tank’s 32-foot-tall metal wall unravelled and was pushed by the water down a hill toward J.R. Allen Parkway.

“The tank wall was a like a bulldozer blade, clearing the hillside,” Water Works Senior Vice President Jim Patterson said.

What once was a circle 180 feet in diameter atop a hill is now a crumpled, long line of metal near the parkway. The trees and vegetation on the hillside have been stripped bare.

The tank, erected in 1965, was last inspected in 2004, Tant said. It was inspected by a engineering firm hired by the Water Works, but Tant declined to identify the firm. There are no state or federal regulations requiring inspections of water tanks, Tant said.

There had been no visible signs of leaks in the tank’s wall or any other signs of stress in recent months, Tant said.

“I promise you, if we had seen anything that led us to believe that tank would fail, we would have dealt with it immediately,” Tant said. “We don’t ignore warning signs.”

There are 12 Water Works tanks located in Muscogee County. This collapse will not automatically trigger an inspection of the other tanks, but the utility will take a closer look at some of the tanks that are similar to the one that failed, Tant said.

It has been a difficult six weeks for the Water Works infrastructure.

The Water Works had five major sewage spills into the Chattahoochee River or its tributaries since March 16.

All five spills were reported to the Georgia Department of Natural Resourcesa and the Environmental Protection Division, which is investigating.

The Water Works faces the possibility of fines from EPD. However, there have been a high number of sewage spills statewide this spring because of the heavy rains.

Tant said it is unfair to connect the sewage spills with the water tank collapse.

“I reject grouping them together,” Tant said. “I don’t believe there is any correlation.”

The tank failure also affected Georgia Power. Damage to power transmission line structures were repaired over the weekend.

Two large metal power poles near J.R. Allen Parkway and River Road were left leaning early Saturday morning in the wake of the rushing water.

“We finished the work about 6 Sunday night,” Georgia Power spokesman Robert Watkins said of the repair work.

The crews began working before dawn Saturday cutting power to the lines, which carry extremely high voltages. The work, which included cutting a road into the lines, was done by local crews, Watkins said.

“This was a highly unusual incident,” Watkins said.

The power company was able to reroute power so that there were no disruptions in service to customers. The power was flowing normally Sunday night.

The metal tank, which was used to hold water pumped out of the Chattahoochee River to await treatment, collapsed shortly before 4 a.m. The tower was located on a hill about 250 yards west of River Road and 100 yards south of J.R. Allen. Most of the water went down toward J.R. Allen and dumped back into the river near the city marina just north of J.R. Allen at the River Road exit.