Weeks after a rain-swollen hillside collapsed and severed the main pipeline providing potable water to the city of Benicia, crews have completed the installation of an emergency bypass line, the city recently announced. But a permanent repair may not happen until next year.

The city declared an emergency on April 5, one week after a series of powerful storms resulted in damage to the pipeline when a hillside collapsed on March 29 in Fairfield. The slope failure occurred just outside the city’s limits, near Interstate 680 and Gold Hill Road.

Construction of the bypass began on April 4 and residents were ordered to reduce their water use by 40 percent while crews worked feverishly to fix the problem.

Despite the bypass becoming operational on April 20, residents are still being asked to reduce their water use by 20 percent for the foreseeable future, the city said.

This means people should not wash sidewalks, driveways, parking areas, tennis courts, patios or other paved areas and must repair any controllable leaks. Residents are also prohibited from allowing excessive water runoff unused into gutters, ditches or drains, using a hand-held hose that does not have an automatic shutoff nozzle, or irrigating during a rain event.

Outdoor irrigation is limited to between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. daily and vehicle washing must be done using a bucket or hand-held hose with an automatic shutoff nozzle.

An emergency bypass pipeline constructed along Lopes Road near Fairfield is pictured in an April 20, 2023, Facebook post provided by the city of Benicia. Storms damaged the main transmission line that provides water to the city on March 29, and a full repair is not expected until sometime in 2024. (City of Benicia/Facebook)

Benicia Public Works Director Kyle Ochenduszko said that city water usually comes through the impacted 14-mile pipeline from Lake Berryessa and the Delta, and when they first noticed soil erosion in the area several weeks ago, they began to monitor the pipe and its pressure.

Crews eventually found a leak that was approximately near Lopes Road. They also noticed that erosion had grown significantly since the last rainstorm. At that point, the city turned off the pipeline and switched to an alternate water source, Lake Herman.

According to the city, the Valero oil refinery is continuing to get its water from Lake Herman, but the rest of the city has returned to using Lake Berryessa and the Delta as its primary water sources.

Meanwhile, expansion work continues on the bypass line so that it will be able to accommodate summer water usage, the city said, but repairs to the main line could take more than a year.

The city has created a website to provide a one-stop source for information about the pipeline situation, the city said.

Katy St. Clair got her start in journalism by working in the classifieds department at the East Bay Express during the height of alt weeklies, then sweet talked her way into becoming staff writer, submissions editor, and music editor. She has been a columnist in the East Bay Express, SF Weekly, and the San Francisco Examiner. Starting in 2015, she begrudgingly scaled the inverted pyramid at dailies such as the Vallejo Times-Herald, The Vacaville Reporter, and the Daily Republic. She has her own independent news site and blog that covers the delightfully dysfunctional town of Vallejo, California, where she also collaborates with the investigative team at Open Vallejo. A passionate advocate for people with developmental disabilities, she serves on both the Board of the Arc of Solano and the Arc of California. She lives in Vallejo.