The artic temperature arrived in our region about two weeks ago and stayed long enough to impact us. The Potomac River temperature dropped about 13 degrees over the weekend from 46 to 33 degrees, triggering a significant increase in the number of water main breaks/leaks according to a news release from WSSC Water. They have experienced more than166 water main breaks/leaks in the past 12 days – with 82 over the weekend alone.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. Water main breaks tend to increase a few days after the river temperature hits a new low because the colder water takes time to travel through approximately 5,900 miles of water distribution mains.
The aging infrastructure is a critical factor in breaks and leaks. The older pipes are more brittle and “shocked” by the colder water, causing them to break. Much of the WSSC’s service areas was built out in the building boom of 1960s and continuing through the late 1980s. Older pipes typically break at a higher rate than newer pipes. Though age alone is not the only factor that determines the likelihood of a pipe breaking it is a big one. Approximately 40 % of the water mains in WSSC Water’s systems are more than 50 years old despite an ongoing pipe replacement program.
WSSC Water spends approximately $17 million each year for emergency water main repairs alone, with about $10 million spent November through February. During a typical year, WSSC Water crews repair more than 1,800 water main breaks and leaks, approximately 65 % of which (1,152) occur between November and February.
Responding to these emergencies has slowed WSSC’s ability to replace the older water mains and WSSC continues to work to update the system. WSSC serves 1.9 million customers in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, with approximately 5,900 miles of water mains covering a 1,000-square-mile area. With such an extensive, aging distribution system spanning the two counties it is hard to keep up and very difficult to move forward to reduce the age of the system of pipes.
WSSC Water encourages customers to report water main breaks and leaks as quickly as possible. Do not assume that someone else has reported the break. There are three ways to report a break:
- Call WSSC Water’s 24/7 Emergency Services Center at 301-206-4002.
- Email WSSC Water’s Emergency Center at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Use WSSC Water’s Mobile App.
The “Report a Problem” feature on WSSC Water’s mobile app allows customers to easily snap a picture of a water or sewer problem and send it directly to the Emergency Call Center. The mobile app uses GPS to pinpoint the image’s location, allowing dispatchers to send an inspector to the location.