Two leaks have been discovered in the public water system serving a Lakeport-area subdivision where a monthslong landslide has rendered at least seven homes uninhabitable.
But there seems to be no consensus on whether the ruptures in the 2-inch line -- since repaired -- were responsible for the ongoing failure of the slope that creates a risk for homes in the Lakeside Heights subdivision.
Resident and homeowners' association treasurer Garey Hurn said he shadowed the leak detection expert who found the burst pipes last Thursday. He was told that, combined, they issued about 30 gallons of water a minute into the hillside -- or what could be more than 2.5 million gallons in the 60 or so days since the land began shifting.
"If you extend those numbers over a period of two months, that cumulative number is staggering," said a neighbor, Scott Spivey, who was forced to abandon the home he had shared with his wife for 11 years when it began to list and sink into the ground.
"Mine is the lowest elevation in the water system," Spivey said. "Tons and tons of water . . . was moving toward my house."
But Kevin Ingram, a spokesman for the Lake County water and wastewater agency, said the county stands by a March 25 leak detection test that found no problems in the water system but did find breaks in subdivision landscape irrigation lines.
The fact that the ground has been moving may have wrenched the pipes sufficiently to damage them, he said.
Ingram also said water still flowing out of the hill onto the road even after the repair of all known leaks suggests there remains yet another, primary reason for the landslide.
"In the leak detection business," said Tom Ruppenthal, the Arizona-based technician who found the breaches last week, "we would say that they were small leaks."
Ingram said, "There's a number of contributing factors. "We have not got to the root of what the actual source is."
Trouble began in early March when Spivey, a one-time contractor who served as as a Clearlake city building official until he was laid off a month earlier, began noticing doors in his Tudor-style home no longer fitting into the door frames. Then the garage began to buckle, and the garage door broke of its hinges.
The garage has since collapsed, the house sunk about 12 feet, and the structure has listed close to 20 degrees off vertical, he said. His insurance won't cover any of it.
Fissures in the ground and damage to other homes has prompted county officials to red-tag seven houses and serve the inhabitants of six other homes with voluntary evacuation notices, Ingram said. The subdivision had 29 homes total.
Hurn disputed that the irrigation lines owned by the homeowners' association could have leaked much, as the system had been turned off since November.
He is among some homeowners who believe the problem may have begun with a March 6 chimney fire in the neighborhood and the possibility that a fire hydrant used that day was turned on or off too suddenly -- the abrupt change in pressure causing what's called a "water hammer" that ruptured the pipe.
But Lakeport Fire Chief Ken Wells said any such occurrence would have been marked by damage in the larger line linked directly to the hydrant.