59 water main breaks in one week in Columbus, Ohio: Winter weather said cause

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From the sound of the story, it sounds to me that the water folks have been getting a lot of concerned calls from residents. Anybody have any historics on this or is 59 water main breaks in one week normal in Columbus, Ohio? We've been seeing 36" + main breaks in other cities as well (Tampa, Washington, DC, Cleveland)

Water mains take their winter breaks

Crews repair about 900 ruptures a year, and many happen during cold months.

Wednesday, February 2, 2000 BY Doug Caruso

Dispatch City Hall Reporter

From his city pickup truck, Kirby Ott surveyed the water bubbling over the curb on Indianola Avenue yesterday.

"This is just winter,'' the water maintenance manager said of the break in a 16-inch, cast-iron water main that closed the street between Cooke Road and E. North Broadway.

The road between might collapse.

"It's eroding out from underneath the road,'' Ott said.

The break was particularly inconvenient because it closed a major road through the evening rush, yet it was all in a day's work for Ott.

Over the weekend, his crews repaired 22 breaks, he said, capping off a week in which they repaired a total of 59 broken water mains.

"You're always going to have breaks,'' he said.

John Doutt, interim director of public utilities for Columbus and an employee of the water division since 1966, agrees.

Crews will chase up to 900 water-line breaks -- ranging from small punctures to cracks that flood streets -- each year. More break in the winter, but when they occur in the summer, often they are less noticeable because they do not leave a glaze of ice on the streets.

Those repairs cost $9 million last year, Doutt said.

In addition, the city will spend $16 million in revenue from the sale of water this year to maintain 3,500 miles of pipe in Columbus and 25 surrounding communities that get their water from the city. Some of that money goes to replace especially problematic lines.

About half the city's lines -- some of them a century old -- are made of brittle cast iron and are susceptible to cracking as the ground heaves in the freeze and thaw cycles of a Columbus winter, Doutt said.

After 1966, the city began using pipes made from a more ductile iron that lets the lines flex. But even those aren't immune to corrosion in some types of soil, Doutt said, and electrical currents from buried cables can cause a chemical reaction that eats through the pipe.

"Just because a pipe is 100 years old, doesn't mean it has to be replaced,'' Doutt said. "We have lines in German Village that are 100 years old, and some streets haven't had a break on them.''

Each break in a water main is logged in a map book at the city's utilities headquarters on Dublin Road. When a line shows too many breaks in too little time, it is replaced.

Seven or eight breaks in 20 years wouldn't be a problem, Doutt said. But the same number in a year might call for replacement. There's a rule- of-thumb formula, he said, but mostly water administrators rely on their experience.

They are especially concerned if a series of breaks threatens the delivery of clean water or jeopardizes the city's ability to fight fires.

"You know it when you see it,'' he said.

A major break, like the gusher that sent 25 million gallons of water onto the streets of downtown Cleveland last month, is possible here, Doutt said.

In that case, a 42-inch cast-iron pipe ruptured along its length like a hot dog bursting on a grill, Doutt said. "Anytime you have cast iron, that could happen, certainly,'' Doutt said. "We have huge water lines Downtown just like they do.''

The key in such a break, Doutt said, is to have well-maintained valves and to get the flow of water shut off quickly. On Indianola Avenue yesterday, Ott didn't have much time to think about potential breaks. He had a real one to deal with.

He worried about the cars that tried to skirt the orange cones blocking the road.

"I'm sorry for the inconvenience,'' he said, "but I'm not going to have my employees run over.''



-- Carl Jenkins (Somewherepress@aol.com), February 03, 2000


Last time we got an abnormally long cold spell in London, UK, it was more like 59,000 burst water mains. The cause is the ground freezing around the mains and squeezing them. Cast Iron is brittle. Expect it to get worse before it gets better when the thaw comes!

-- Nigel (nra@maxwell.ph.kcl.ac.uk), February 03, 2000.


I've lived in the Columbus area for almost 30 years - 59 water breaks is definitely not the norm for here. I'm not saying that this is Y2K related, but that the number of breaks is just not normal. It was probably caused by the lengthy stretch of sub-zero weather we've had. Lord knows that we haven't had a real winter in quite some time.

"Just because a pipe is 100 years old, doesn't mean it has to be replaced,'' Doutt said. "We have lines in German Village that are 100 years old, and some streets haven't had a break on them.''

Rebuttal to DouttGee! That's because German Village has narrow, brick-paved streets that won't allow semi's on them. There isn't enough traffic to cause the kind of breakage and potholes you see on every other street! I-71 looks like a village of prairie dogs has moved in!!

As for the 42 inch water-main pipe, remember when the gold Beemer (driver included) was swallowed by the monster pothole on Broad Street (?) back in the mid-eighties?

-- Deb M. (vmcclell@columbus.rr.com), February 03, 2000.

Today most main line water lines are made of ductile iron pipe that is lined with a coating of cement. Mains are generally 4" or greater, some up to 9' in diameter.

In Alaska we installed main line a minimum of 10' deep to protect from the normal winter frost line. All piping less than 15" in dia had to be conductive to allow welders to be attached in a loop, which vibrate the frozen water into a slush, which can then be moved and removed. Everything over 15" was determined to be free from freezing danger because the volumes and movement of the water are adequate to prevent freeze ups.

My concern has been the effect of water 'hammer', or the sudden surges caused by on/off/on episodes, combined with air voids. The resulting hydraulics can wreak havoc on a water line system.

Many newer lines are made of large diameter PVC piping, outside severe weather zones.

-- Michael (mikeymac@uswest.net), February 03, 2000.


You're right: 59 breaks (and probably more) *is not* normal, even with the cold spell. What worries me more, though, is the crumbling sewer lines and what may happen to them this spring when all of this snow melts. I wouldn't be at all surprised if downtown and the near west side become home to all manner of sink holes and messy spills.

Drive carefully if you're going out tonight: another winter weather advisory is in effect.

-- (ladybuckeye_59@yahoo.com), February 03, 2000.


Thanks - you take care too, the commute tomorrow should be *interesting*... Now, maybe we'll have enough snow so I can use my "Y2K" snowshoes. :-)

-- Deb M. (vmcclell@columbus.rr.com), February 03, 2000.


Take the day off work if you can and snow shoe on out to any of the Metro Parks. I was out briefly today and hopefully got some good pictures of the snow on the trees.


-- (ladybuckeye_59@yahoo.com), February 03, 2000.

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