Ephemeral Geyser


Slideshow (34 shots)

Our principal diversion on a cold, drippy Saturday: A water main broke up on McGee Avenue at Buena Avenue, a couple blocks from our house. We were on our way back from a walk with The Dog and saw an unusual amount of water washing down the gutters on Buena and around the corner down California Street and decided to investigate. Just uphill from McGee and Buena, water was pouring through a heaved-up section of pavement. It seemed to be worsening slowly, and after 10 minutes or was fountaining about four feet into the air. We took some pictures, talked to some friends in the neighborhood who were taking in the scene, then walked back home.

As I sat down to look at the pictures, my friend Bruce, who lives a couple doors up from the break, called. He said I needed to get back up there–the water was shooting 80 feet into the air. Kate and I ran back up the street. This was the scene looking up McGee. The water was jetting into the air onto and over a house owned by well-known Berkeley artist David Lance Goines. The volume of water was enough that it caused a flood in his backyard, and he was overheard to say that at least a little water was getting into his home. A couple dozen neighbors gathered to watch the show.

Firefighters on the scene monitored the break while they waited for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, our water provider, to dispatch a crew. One of the firefighters told me they could shut down the flow of water, but wouldn’t as long as it didn’t seem to be a threat; it might help EBMUD diagnose the break if they saw the water flowing, he said. But when the flow broke loose, the firefighters got busy trying to close valves up and down the street. They eventually managed to limit the flow to about a 10-foot column that slopped onto the sidewalk. As soon as they did that, a single EBMUD employee showed up (an hour and 12 minutes after I began taking pictures, by which time the utility had already been alerted). The water guy knew what he was doing. It took him nine minutes to shut down the geyser).


Update: After the geyser was shut down, I heard one of the firefighters ask the EBMUD guy, “Do you know how old the main is?” “Yeah, I know–it’s older than you. It’s older than you, and you’d have to be born before 1910 to be older than it.” My friend Bruce, who says his house was built in 1905, said the main must be at least that old. He’s lived there since the late ’70s, and said that when he’d moved in, an older man rooming next door talked about growing up on the block back when the first houses were built there. Buena Avenue was a cow path, Bruce recalled the man saying, and “Farmer McGee,” for whom McGee Avenue is named, used to drive cattle to pasture down to the west.


After dark, I went out an took a look at what the EBMUD crew was doing. Bruce and a friend were watching the proceedings. They said there had been an oval-shaped hole in the main not much bigger than two hands held together. That was a pretty impressive show of what water under pressure can do when forced out of a small opening (hydraulic mining, anyone?).


I heard one other story about the day: Kate was standing in the gaggle of neighbors that came to watch the geyser. A woman who lives a couple doors down Buena related how she had been out walking her dog when she noticed water bubbling through the pavement in front of David Goines house at Buena and McGee. His car was parked right where the water was percolating up. She knocked on his door and told him he might want to move his car. He did.

5 Replies to “Ephemeral Geyser”

  1. That is a good one. I feel sorry for the people living next to it. We had a break in a water main last month. Some guys from the gas company were repairing a leak in one of their pipes when they accidentally broke through the water main…with a backhoe. They had some splainin’ to do. That was a mess.
    You got a lot of good photos. I like the distance shot.

  2. One thing about how long the geyser sprayed. I overheard one of the firemen say he’d turned down the water, but was asked by his partner, Why didn’t you shut it off? The first replied, I thought we were never supposed to shut it all the way off. But after this exchange, they went back out and shut off the water, and after they did so at the bottom of Vine, the spurting ceased.

  3. Hey, Rob — thanks! As jb said, in a way, the distance shot in the slideshow says it best — you could see that thing spouting up a full block away.

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