Bill Mitchell hit the jackpot Wednesday morning, a few yards north of Wildcat Lane.

That's where Mitchell, superintendent of the Youngs River Lewis & Clark Water District, found the major water leak that had crippled the district's water system since Oct. 11.

By 3 p.m. Wednesday, the leak was fixed. The crisis that had left dozens of the district's customers with no running water for as long as three weeks, was finally over.

On Monday, Mitchell had narrowed the source of the leak to somewhere along a stretch of Lewis and Clark Road, from the elementary school to Ross Lane. That day, he and his crew found and repaired a leak just south of the school, but it wasn't the major one.

Mitchell's "eureka" moment came late the next day, after an arduous 10-hour trek along Lewis and Clark Road using special electronic water leak detectors. First, Mitchell spent two hours using an ultra-sensitive electronic leak detector lent to the water district for a day by Astoria's public works department. When that device's microphone failed, Mitchell was able to find the district's own Metrotech digital water leak locator. He continued his quest.

He had nearly reached Ross Lane when he began to hear the faint sound of escaping water in his headphones.

He began taking decibel readings at six-foot intervals, marking the results in big white letters with chalk until he zeroed in on the exact spot. Oddly, the spot was already marked - by a discarded horse shoe.

A lucky sign.

Wednesday morning, Mitchell brought in the backhoe, a dump truck and traffic flaggers. He thought he had the big leak, but he wasn't 100 percent sure. Water was gushing out of two separate holes in a section of pipe that was put in the ground 45 years ago. The water was flowing so fast into a two-foot wide culvert that runs under Lewis and Clark Road that it was forming white caps.

"I feel better. This is definitely the problem," Mitchell said. But having been disappointed dozens of times before, he was still wary. "I won't be relaxed until the tanks are full and everything's back to normal," he said.

He couldn't be absolutely sure until he shut off the water, drained two miles of pipe, replaced the leaky segment with a new high density polyethylene (HDP) pipe and installed transition couplings - one for each end of the new segment. Then the water would be turned back on and there would be another test. Would it fill the reservoir tank at nearby Lyngstad Heights? He called in the backhoe and the dump truck and got busy.

"You'll see me dancing when I get water going back into that tank," Mitchell said.

By 3 p.m., water district secretary Mary Robarge reported the Lyngstad Heights tank was full, a water sample had come back clean and the boil-water order had been lifted.

She didn't mention whether Mitchell was dancing.

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