Broken Water Mains and Sleep Deprivation

Posted: 10/08/2014

Cue the rattling noise of a jack hammer crunching the asphalt of a busy street… at ten o’clock in the evening. Children nestled in their beds with visions of pounded rock dancing in their heads.

When Sally asked City Utilities why they chose to work on the street directly in front of her house so late in the evening, she was informed, with sincere apologies, that the water main under the street had burst. Failure to fix it immediately would result in the entire street out of water by morning.

Disturbed sleep aside, what would cause the water main to bust? And how would all of the water for the neighborhood run out so quickly? And if it hadn’t been fixed, what else could happen?

How it Works
A water main is the chief source for providing water from a water treatment plant to city neighborhoods. According to the EPA website:

Water distribution systems consist of an interconnected series of pipes, storage facilities, and components that convey drinking water and meeting fire protection needs for cities, homes, schools, hospitals, businesses, industries and other facilities.  Public water systems depend on distribution systems to provide an uninterrupted supply of pressurized safe drinking water to all consumers. It is the distribution system mains that carry water from the treatment plant (or from the source in the absence of treatment) to the consumer.  Spanning almost one million miles in the United States, distribution systems represent the vast majority of physical infrastructure for water supplies.

A broken main means a major disruption in the water system. There are several possible causes, but since most water mains are several feet underground, breaks are typically the result of worn out pipes. Cold weather conditions cause pipes to expand and contract as the water within gets colder and warmer with temperature changes, which weakens pipes over time. Additionally, changes in soil conditions, pipe corrosion, and movement underground can cause pipes to lose stability.

Immediate Attention Required
In order to limit disruption in the water supply to residence, or to prevent flooding and possible property damage, City Utilities must address a broken water main immediately. When the break occurs, water starts to find its way to the surface and flooding may even occur. This is typically how the break is discovered – when a resident reports water flow in a place this is unusual, especially when there is no rain or other precipitation in the area. Typically, the repair process occurs as follows:
  • Crews respond to a report of water seepage and look for the source of the problem
  • If necessary, water valves are closed to stop water flow to the damaged area and contain the leak
  • Electrical equipment is used to obtain the exact location of the leak
  • Crews dig to the section of the water main that is damaged and repair the leak as needed
  • Valves are turned on and water is restored so the repair can be tested
  • The hole is backfilled and sod or pavement replaced over the water main


So, even if the jack hammer resounds through your neighborhood all night long, it’s better than having flood damage or no usable water, wouldn’t you say? Maybe sleeping with some headphones on can keep the pounding at bay.