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Hydrant's Broken, But You Can See It On A Cool Map

Here's a wonderfully Washingtonian good news-bad news story: The District is a strong contender for City With The Most Broken Fire Hydrants honors, but the city has a cutting-edge tool for viewing and reporting broken hydrants.

Several readers have noticed the color-coded, ring-shaped labels that are being placed on hydrants to show which ones have a prayer of working should there be a fire on your block. They asked that I look into just what is being done about the broken hydrants. Again, it's a good news-bad news situation: The good--they are being replaced. The bad--it's a five-year process.

But in the meantime, you can watch the progress on a cool site. The D.C. Water and Sewer Authority now has a Google Earth site (you need to download Google Earth to use the site) that allows residents to tag their local fire hydrants and alert neighbors (and, presumably, city water and fire officials) to the fact that many of those hydrants don't actually work.

As the city learned in the Georgetown Library fire disaster last year, a whole lot of hydrants do not deliver water. WASA is hiring contractors to install some new hydrants, and the census of the existing, often ancient fireplugs is clearly getting done. But that's small solace to residents who notice that most or all of the nearby hydrants now announce to the world that they are not in operating order.

Of the city's 9,000 or so hydrants, WASA officials contended that only a hundred or so are out of order. But anyone who wanders around town and counts the out-of-order signs on the actual hydrants will be skeptical of that number. And the firefighters union reports that the number of broken hydrants is really more like 900, or about 10 percent of the total. The District decided last year to spend $26 million to replace 3,500 hydrants, but that five-year project is nowhere near the finish line.

In the meantime, you might add your local hydrant to the map, which are now most thickly documented downtown and in close-in neighborhoods.

By Marc Fisher |  October 22, 2008; 7:37 AM ET
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Ah, waste at it's finest! Watching progress on this site cerrtainly rates right up there with watching a pile of crap evaporate. The race is on........

Posted by: Two Cents | October 22, 2008 10:05 AM

10% broken? Marc, drive around NW DC (which you do) and see how many hydrants are marked as being out of service or needing maintenance. Even hydrants replaced with new ones in the past 6 - 12 months are flagged now as needing maintenance. The total needing maintenance + out of service is far more than 10%. There is not a working hydrant within 1/4 mile of my block, and hasn't been for over a year.

Posted by: Paul | October 22, 2008 12:23 PM

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