Monday, December 10, 2018

WSSC Getting Ready for Winter

After a November that saw more than 200 water main breaks and leaks, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), which supplies drinking water to Montgomery and Prince George’s counties held a news conference to release details of WSSC’s #WinterReady plans. (I still don’t get why they do this with a hashtag.)

As you can see below, there is a direct connection between dropping water temperatures in the Potomac River and the increase in water main breaks. When the temperature drops the incidence of water main breaks rise. Of the 5,700 miles of water mains in their distribution system, approximately 2,900 miles are cast iron pipe, which were used from 1916 to through 1976. These pipes are prone to breaks because cast iron is a brittle material and the break rate for pipes increases after 60 years. Nearly 40% of WSSC water mains are more than 50 years old.
Water main breaks from 2015 -2018
Water main breaks can leave hundreds of people without service and can also cause serious traffic problems, making the daily commutes even more challenging. so WSSC takes winter preparations very seriously. “Winter is water main break season, and WSSC crews are ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at us,” said Carla Reid CEO of WSSC. “We keep a close eye on the temperature of the Potomac River, knowing that when the water temps drop, we see an increase in breaks. Our crews are ready to repair these breaks 24/7, and restore service to our customers as quickly as possible.”

According to the WSSC, they typically see an increase in breaks a few days after the Potomac River temperature hits a new low. The dropping water temperature can “shock” water mains, and though the pipes become accustomed to the cold water; whenever water temperatures hit a new low, there is a spike in breaks. As seen in the chart above the cold snap last January lead to an all-time-record 802 water main breaks and leaks in January 2018.

On average, WSSC crews repair more than 1,800 water main breaks and leaks each year, with the vast majority of them, approximately 1,200, occurring between November and February. WSSC has already repaired approximately 200 breaks and leaks in November this year and last winter as seen below, the total number of breaks was above average. 
2017-2018 winter water main breaks
According to WSSC Utility Services Director Damion Lampley. “When we experience a high volume of breaks, we prioritize repairs based on factors such as number of customers affected and impact to major roadways. Because some breaks may take longer to repair, we ask customers for their patience and understanding.”

At the new conference, WSSC crews demonstrated how to repair a typical break in a pipe and displayed the leak detection equipment used to pinpoint water main leaks. WSSC has teams of skilled workers and contractors on standby, along with trucks, heavy equipment, and the latest technology ready to roll for the winter to restore water flow after water main breaks.

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