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A Busy Month for Water Main Breaks

by ARLnow.com December 22, 2010 at 9:04 am 1,480 8 Comments

Arlington’s Water, Sewer and Streets bureau is experiencing an especially busy December.

Overnight, water crews responded to several small water main breaks around the county. The pace of the breaks was similar to a span of nine days earlier this month when, partially thanks to last week’s frigid temperatures, the bureau responded to 18 separate water main breaks.

Dave Hundelt, WSS’s Chief Operating Engineer, says the “rash” of ruptures is notable, but not particularly unusual this time of year. Most water main breaks happen when there are significant variations in temperature, or when it gets so cold that the ground around the pipes starts to freeze.

That makes the transition to winter and the transition to spring prime time for water main breaks.

Arlington, like other localities around the county, is considering ways to upgrade its water infrastructure. The county’s cast iron water main pipes date as far back as 1927. Most of the piping currently in place is from the 1930s, 40s, and 50s. While it has some time to go until it hits its 100 year expected lifecycle, older pipes are more prone to breaking, increasing maintenance costs.

“It is a problem that is national,” said Hundelt. “If we don’t reinvest in the system… we’ll just be paying for it in more unplanned breaks and reactive maintenance.”

The WSS bureau is currently pursuing a capital improvement strategy of relining some existing pipes every summer while replacing others. Hundelt says he hopes to pick up the pace of improvements, to get the county on a sustainable 100 year replacement cycle.

Such projects will have to be funded locally, however.

“There is not a silver bullet, federal answer for funding for that kind of stuff, at least not at this time,” Hundelt said.

  • SoArlRes

    Not too uncommon, but it can really snarl traffic. BTW, what are the replacement water main pipes constructed from? Are the pipes re-lined with some sort of steel?

    • The replacements thus far have been mostly a more modern version of iron pipe. PVC is also an option, but as I understand it there are questions about PVC’s durability.

      • SoArlRes

        Thanks. Keep up the good work! Love this site.

    • Pipe

      Its ductile iron pipe that is lined with a thin coating of concrete. It comes in several classes which determines thickness.

  • shirley

    it is Obama’s fault. No, it is Zimmie’s fault. Well at least the picture is in South Arlington. 🙂

  • Bender

    Replace the water system infrastructure?? Let’s not.

    Instead, let’s spend all of our money — which is becoming a rare commodity these days — on more essentials like obsolete streetcars and multiple community centers and curb movements to narrow the roads and public-private partnerships to further enrich rich developers and wasteful litigation with the state.

    • mehoo

      Do you have evidence that the water system is underfunded?

  • Suburban Not Urban

    The county employee above said it. He says if “we pick up the pace” we can get on a sustainable replacement cycle for things that are designed for 100 year replacement cycles. That would take more funding than the current pace. If you don’t get on a sustainable replacement cycle – things that are designed for “only” 100 years get used for more than 100 years and they tend to fail more regularly.


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