Winter weather conditions and aging city infrastructure resulted in the highest number of water main breaks in a single year for the last 33 years.
The high number of main breaks in 2013 was due to a combination of low temperatures and the aging water mains in Madison, according to Madison Water Utility spokesperson Amy Barrilleaux.
“These particular mains that are most vulnerable to the changes in weather were built in 1930s, 40s and 50s,” Barrilleaux said. “They were made of material called spun cast iron which is more brittle, and it’s actually thinner than the water mains that were put in before and the water mains that were put in afterwards.”
Barrilleaux said one reason spun cast iron was used during this era was because of World War II. Many materials such as cast iron were being mass-produced during this time period because of the ongoing war effort, she said.
In addition to the war effort, there was also a rapid growth of many cities and towns across the country, she said. Suppliers who were producing materials like cast iron were trying to make them as fast and cheap as possible, she said.
The water mains from that particular era seem to have reached the end of their useful lives, Barrilleaux said. She also said these water mains have not lasted as long as the ones Madison had put in recently or the ones put in during the 1800s.
The City of Madison is currently trying to replace existing spun cast iron water mains, Barrilleaux said. She added Madison spent $7.5 million last year replacing water mains and they expect to spend upwards of $12 million a year to replace, renew or reline the mains by 2020.
Madison Water Utility continues to stay busy this year, Barilleaux said. According to a Madison Water Utility tweet, the city saw at least nine water main breaks in one day during the polar vortex cold snap on Jan. 6, requiring crews to work through the night repairing the pipes.
Officials will have to wait and see what the weather patterns bring to determine how many repairs and funds will be needed in 2014, she said.
Ald. Scott Resnick, District 8, said it was fortunate there have not been any major water main problems reported on campus.
“It’s cold out and one of the major issues with the very low temperatures are with water mains freezing and causing a number of problems throughout the city,” he said.
As cold weather continues, students should continue checking for frozen pipes, as Resnick said he expects this will be a common problem. If there are any issues, students should contact their landlord immediately, he said.
Whenever there is a water main break, the City of Madison addresses it as quickly and efficiently as possible, he said. This pattern of immediate response to main break problems is expected to continue throughout the upcoming winter season, he said.