water main breaks

Just One Water Main Replacement Project = 4X the Comcast Center, And Some

This blog is part of our Infrastructure Week 2017 campaign. See our Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts for exclusive content not available on the blog. We’ll be talking about a variety of projects and topics May 15-19. Learn more about the infrastructure that keeps our city running and help us make the case for smart investments in our nation’s water, roads, bridges, airports and more.

If you follow local news at all, you’ve probably seen some of the dramatic footage showing major water main breaks that have left the stores of Bakers Centre in East Falls flooded three times in just three years:

Breaks like those at Bakers Centre are unusual for a few reasons, not least of which is amount of water that spilled. In Philadelphia over the last five years, we’ve average a little over two main breaks per day—a rate that is actually less than the national average. Most of our breaks involve mains that are under two inches in diameter and don’t make the news because the impacts are, in comparison, minor.

Two-Year Rate Change Requested to Replace Water Mains, Sewers, Aging Infrastructure and More

Philadelphia Water crews replace a main in the Graduate Hospital area. Credit: Philadelphia Water.
Philadelphia Water crews replace a main in the Graduate Hospital area. Credit: Philadelphia Water.

Today, we notified City Council and the City’s independent Water Rate Board that Philadelphia Water needs to request a rate increase that would go into effect on July 1, 2016.

The increase we proposed amounts to 11.7 percent over a two-year period, and would raise the typical residential bill $8 per month by 2018. The chart below breaks down the changes a typical residential customer would see:

 

We know that no one likes to hear about rates going up. We don’t ask for a rate change unless we need it, and we want to make sure our customers have the all the facts.

Another Reason to Love Spring: Winter Will Loosen Its Grip on Our Water Mains

This Friday, March 20, is the Vernal equinox--the first day of spring (even though it's supposed to snow)! Here at PWD, we're taking one big collective sigh of relief, hoping that the harsh cold of winter is behind us. With warmer temperatures, the
natural forces that put so much strain on our hundreds of miles of cast iron
water mains will begin to relent and we should experience less water main breaks. 

Recently, Philadelphia Magazine published Philadelphia: We’re Not Alone in Water Main Breaks, which explores winter's effects on water mains and makes clear that Philadelphia is not unique when comes to this problem. In fact, it points out that Philadelphia grades better than the national average. 

The piece notes, when compared with other cities and the national averages for water main breaks per year, we're actually doing pretty well. Our average 240 breaks per 1000 miles of pipe per year beats the national average of 270 per 1000 miles. And our water system's life-cycle average (which is the average number of years it would take at our current rate of replacement to replace the entire system) is 125 years, which sounds like a long time until you compare it to the national average of 200 years. Starting in 2016, PWD will replace old pipes at an even faster rate to get that life-cycle average down to 100 years. A baby born in 2016 could live long enough to see every mile of pipe replaced in his or her lifetime! So that's something. 

As we replace the cast-iron pipe we're using newer ductile iron pipe. (Remember "ductile" from physical science class? Think flexible... not brittle.) This will help to cut down even further on the number of breaks per year. While we may never be able to completely avoid water main breaks, our hope is that we can reduce the number and continue to improve our response and resolution time so that when the inevitable break does happen, it causes as little disruption as possible.

In the meantime, we appreciate our customers and the people of Philadelphia helping us out by keeping an eye on the streets. And we appreciate our crews that work around the clock to fix water main breaks in less than desirable conditions. If you see a water main break or suspect one because you see water where you don't think water should be, please call our 24-hour hotline at 215-685-6300.

Thanks to Our Cold Weather Heroes!

If you’ve been listening to the radio or watching TV news any morning over the last couple months, you’ve undoubtedly heard several reports about broken water mains all over the region. Though we’ve been able to dodge the snowfall that has made life very difficult in other cities, the extreme swings in temperature have done a number on our pipes.

During a mild winter, when the temperature outside only occasionally dips below 32 degrees, the temperature of the ground below tends to remain at a constant, slightly warmer temperature. As a result, we tend to see fewer wintertime water main breaks. 

During a winter like this, with air temperatures dropping into the low single digits and staying there for days, the water in the mains gets colder and denser and the traces of water in the ground freeze and expand.  The cold, dense water flowing through the pipe causes the pipe material to contract at the same time the expanding ground around the pipes pushes and pulls them in all directions. It’s a recipe for broken joints, which we’ve seen plenty of!

Each broken main has the potential to make a real mess as water coming to the surface quickly freezes over and service to homes and business is disrupted. Into these breaches, go our cold weather warriors. These repair crews are tasked with identifying the leak, shutting off the water going to the broken section of pipe (made complicated by frozen valves), pinpointing the exact location of the break (often the hardest part!), digging up the frozen ground around the break to repair it, and quickly patching the street to return life to normal. And they do this in ideally less than eight hours, usually while working in sub-freezing temperatures… with water flowing all around… in the dark! 

So what can you do to help?

PWD monitors 3,200 miles of water mains and has crews all over the city inspecting and maintaining the water and sewer system to find and repair leaks before they become bigger problems. But we need you, citizen of Philadelphia, to help out by acting as another set of eyes and ears. When you see any water that looks like it’s in the wrong place, get in touch with us to report it.

The good news is we have a bunch of ways to do so. The way to reach us directly is by calling (215) 685-6300. Granted, when the water starts flowing down your street at 5am you’re not likely to have this blog post handy so you can also call 3-1-1 and ask to be transferred to report any water or sewer emergency. Finally, if the phone isn’t your bag, you can get in touch with us directly through Twitter (we read all of the Tweets directed toward us and respond as quickly as we can). Follow us at twitter.com/PhillyH2O.

Oh, and please… feel free to let that crew who is out there in the cold, getting wet and trying to fix that break as quickly as possible, know that you appreciate the tough job they’re doing. The rest of us here at PWD certainly do!

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