Number of factors play into water main leaks

Published 6:59 am Thursday, January 7, 2010

Cold temperatures often bring water main breaks, but the weather isn’t the only reason a main can break.

A number of factors play into a water main leak, said Todd Jorgenson, gas, water and engineering operations director with Austin Utilities. The age and placement of the main is key, and pipe in more corrosive clay soil tends to wear and damage more easily than similar pipes in sandy soil.

Crews with Austin Utilities closed the 500 block of First Avenue Northwest Wednesday to repair a water main leak caused by corroded bolts connecting the main to a hydrant.

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Crews respond to about 30 water main leaks a year, Jorgenson said. While many of them occur in the winter, Jorgenson said the breaks happen throughout the year.

Jorgenson said fluctuations in temperature can cause a main to break.

When a main breaks, Austin Utilities has a construction crew of 12 workers who repair water mains and gas lines. Some of the crew’s most important work comes before a main breaks, Jorgenson said.

“The best prevention method we’ve got is our replacement program,” he said.

In the summer, crews focus on replacing old and corroded mains to prevent leaks. Jorgenson said the goal is to have a quality water system with as few leaks as possible.

“We’re always shooting for zero,” Jorgenson said. “But that’d be in a perfect world.”

Jorgenson asked people to be patient when a main breaks because crews often need to turn off water to an area to fix a leak. Jorgenson said people should contact Austin Utilities if they see water running down the street or what appears to be a water main leak.