Water main breaks: Can they be prevented?

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — With more winter weather on the way, Hampton Roads continues to be at risk for water pipes freezing and breaking.

Since Friday, Virginia Beach alone has fixed more than 30 water main breaks. Newport News had 10 over the weekend, Norfolk crews reported 11, and Portsmouth counts 16 breaks since this time last week. So what are public works crews doing to prevent residents from losing water service? 10 On Your Side spoke with several local engineers to find out.

They all say they’re doing regular maintenance, but that won’t keep water mains from potentially busting in your neighborhood. And when it does happen, a band-aid fix might work best.

Monday was another day crews responded to water main breaks, and no city was immune.

“By the time we were starting to rinse out the dishes, the water was gone,” Markette Cowles told WAVY.com about her water-less day in Newport News last week. Crews were at the scene for several hours fixing the problem in the snow. Fortunately, the snow that contributed to her water woes also cancelled everything else for the day, leaving her need for water not as urgent.

“We don’t have to go anywhere or stand outside in the cold for the bus or things like that,” Cowles explained.

On Monday in Virginia Beach, the hope is that the worst is over.

“We’ve had 26 water main breaks in the last three days, so our crews are out there 24/7,” explained Water Operations Manager Jim Cherry.

Most of the breaks are in older pipes made of cast iron. As they can afford to, cities are replacing the decades-old pipes with ductile iron, a costly and timely endeavor.

“To do a spot repair for a water main break is expensive,” Cherry explained. It costs about $5,000 to $10,000 per break.

“Actually, to go look at a neighborhood, to replace all the water mains in a neighborhood, that’s a lot more expensive,” Cherry said, quoting a price of about $70 per foot. That is, of course, multiplied by the entire neighborhood.

That’s why the new pipes don’t really come until an area is prioritized.

Most spot repairs are done with repair clamps, a temporary solution. When they have several clamps in a row, that’s an indication that the road needs new pipes.

So, while it’s just been mildly uncomfortable for people like Markette, it could become dangerous if several main lines go down at once.

“Certainly, if a fire happens, you don’t want to tell the firemen that the water main broke and they can’t put out a fire,” Cherry said.

Engineers across Hampton Roads said that prioritizing and repairing happens year round.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s