Why Water Mains Break

One of the biggest concerns for water utilities during extremely hot or cold weather is water main breaks. Water mains are expected to last a long time – as long as 100 years in many cases. But with many miles of pipe buried underground, it’s reasonable to expect a particular section of pipe will fail or break at some point. The challenge for water utilities is to work proactively to minimize the number of breaks and to respond effectively when a main does break.

While the oldest water mains were made of wood, by the late 1800s, a variety of iron pipe was being used to construct water distribution systems. Common iron varieties included cast and galvanized in the early part of the 20th Century, with galvanized used primarily for smaller diameter pipe. Cast iron pipe was used until the late 1950s when stronger, more flexible ductile iron pipe became common. Plastic pipe, including Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and High Density Polyethylene (HDPE) became common in the 1970s. The primary difference between these two plastic pipes is that PVC is stiffer than HDPE, which is more flexible. Even though pipe is expected to last for decades, that doesn’t mean it won’t break at some point. While it is impossible to predict specific pipe breaks, we know that environmental conditions are a major factor in water main breaks.

In the northern and northeast areas of the country where winters are more extreme, cold soils and cold water combine to add stress to pipes, which can—and often do—result in breaks. Iron, like all metals, contracts as temperatures drop. This problem is more common when the source water is surface water (rivers and lakes). These waters are significantly affected by air temperature and can drop to near freezing in the winter. A temperature difference of just 10 degrees in water or air temperatures can cause pipes to contract or expand. Additional stress inside and outside the pipe occurs as temperatures near the freezing point, making the pipe vulnerable to breakage. Water temperature changes more slowly than air temperature changes so the impact of cold water on pipes can cause breakage to take place as many as a couple days after temperatures freeze. Water systems with groundwater sources (wells) have more stable water temperatures because the water is not affected by air temperatures, and therefore, not as significantly impacted. 

Just as pipes are adversely affected by cold weather conditions, they are also affected by severe heat. In some groundwater systems in the southern and southwestern states, the soils are like sponges and hold lots of water. However, during extended periods of hot temperature when high demands for water increases water withdrawal from the aquifers, the soil becomes very dry. In these conditions, the soil contracts and subsides, pulling away from the pipe and diminishing support for the water main. The absence of support for the main can cause it to break. This particular problem led the City of Houston, Texas to begin to convert its groundwater supply to surface water.

Although older mains are generally more susceptible to breaks, breaks can occur on newer mains. This is most likely the result of improper installation or a manufacturing issue with that particular section of pipe. By examining trends in water main breaks over time, a utility is better able to identify categories of pipe that are more prone to breaks, and thus proactively target that pipe for replacement. Aqua employs such tactics in determining which mains to replace. By the end of 2013, Aqua expects to have spent $170 million of its $325 million capital improvement program on water main replacement and associated work.

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Prevent Frozen Pipes and Fix Leaks this Winter

January 4, 2018 – Don’t let Mother Nature or aging pipes wreak havoc on your home this winter. About 250,000 homes are severely damaged from burst, cracked or frozen water pipes each year – which is why it is essential to take precautions and fix leaks around your home. 

Toilets and faucets are the biggest culprits for leaks. Not only can they waste water, they can increase your water bill if they go undetected. To check for leaks, shut off all your faucets and appliances that use water. Read your meter, then read it again 20 minutes later. If your reading has changed, you have a leak.

If the temperature outside drops to about 10 degrees, you are also at risk for frozen pipes. Check out the video below and follow Fred Wags and Felicia Fluff as they show you around the Aqua house and teach you how to prevent frozen pipes.

 

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What We're Thankful For

It's that time of year again! 
 
As we all sit around the dinner table for Thanksgiving with family and friends to recognize what we are most thankful for, the Aqua team would like to thank the people who make clean and accessible water a possibility: our employees. Their dedication to their trade helps build a stronger and more reliable water infrastructure and a closer bond with the customers we serve.
 
 
With winter weather approaching, our crews will work tirelessly to respond to emergencies and ensure water service through even the harshest of polar vortexes. We are thankful for our employees' hard-work and daily commitment to excellent service in some times unpredictable conditions, long hours and plenty of service requests.
 
Whether you work in the lab, at a call center, or out in the field, we can not thank you enough for your work. Happy Thanksgiving! 
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Get To Know Aqua: Area Manager Melissa Kahoun

1. My name is…Melissa Kahoun         

2. When I was a kid, my nickname was…Shasha – this is how my youngest sister ended up pronouncing Melissa

3. My title is...Area Manager

4. That means I (do what?)…I have overall responsibility for the day-to-day operations of Aqua’s water and wastewater assets in the Kankakee and Will County Divisions. 

5. If I had to pick 3 words to describe myself, they’d be…Dedicated, Empathetic, Honest

6. Favorite weekend activity: Biking (mountain or road biking)

7. Since I started working at Aqua, the most fun I experienced was…Attending a Kankakee Community College sustainability expo.  Aqua had a source water protection booth setup and I was explaining why macro-invertebrates are so important to the river to a little girl and before she left with her dad, she ran up to me and gave me a great big hug – made my heart melt!

8. I love water, because…without it I would not exist!

9. The most interesting thing I’ve crossed off my “Bucket List” is…Running a half marathon – not because I completed one but because my doctor told me my body and running don’t agree with one another.  I came close though…. 

10. In the summer, you can find me...In the woods (camping, biking, hiking)

11. When I was a kid, I always thought I’d grow up to be...A veterinarian.  My dream job would be running an animal rescue facility.

12. Do you have any pets? I have a cat named Little Kitty 

13. If I could be one movie character, I would be...because...Laura Croft because in the movie Tomb Raider she was an extremely intelligent woman and tough as nails.  Two incredibly awesome traits.

14. Don’t tell anybody, but I’ve always had a celebrity crush on…Gerard Butler

15. If I weren’t working at Aqua, I would be…Probably married to Gerard Butler!

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Diving In: Touring the Ashtabula Bunker Tank

The light-gray interior of the steel cylinder warped and echoed the near whispers of James Parker and Joseph Flahiff as they stood in a shaft of a daylight squeezed through a port hole far above their hard hats.

They were inside one of the city’s best-kept secrets, a structure whose interior rarely receives a human visitor. Surrounded by trees and a high fence, only neighbors and astute drivers know of the water tank, which has been off-line for the past month while interior restoration work was performed by Tank Industries Consultants of Indianapolis.

Parker, inspector with the company, and Flahiff, production manager for the tank’s owner, Aqua Ohio, opened the tank to a media tour. It was a rare chance to crawl inside a time capsule of sorts; the interior was last painted in the 1980s, although there have been periodic inspections that required human intrusion. 

Last year, two inspectors entered the tank from an access port and, using an inflatable raft, inspected the top section of the interior. The inspection was necessary to obtain a cost estimate for the interior painting job ordered by Aqua Ohio as part of its wide-reaching plan to upgrade the Ashtabula water system.

With the tank work nearly complete, Flahiff and Parker proudly showed off the fresh paint job as if they were unveiling a commissioned work of art. 

Repairs were made, the corrosion sandblasted away and an inert coating certified safe for potable water applied. Flahiff said coatings have improved greatly in the past 30 years, and the modern paint will do a better job of protecting the water supply.

The project is part of a major reinvestment plan to improve the area’s water treatment and distribution system. Aqua spent $1.4 million replacing pipe, valves and hydrants last year. Another $300,000 went into the chemical building at the treatment plant and $800,000 went for exterior painting and structural rehabilitation of the Bunker Hill tank.

All of the tanks provide a reserve of water and help maintain consistent pressure at faucets across the system, from a spacious Tudor on Bunker Hill to a bungalow on Lake Erie, where the water we take for granted begins and ends its journey. 

For more:

Where Few Have Gone by Shelley Terry and Carl Feather

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