A series of water main breaks are causing frustration among residents and water maintenance workers are busy this week fixing pipes and tightening valves.
Fort Wayne Utilities spokesperson Frank Suarez said these breaks are not uncommon.
“This is a very typical day for the water department,” he explained. “It just so happens that the mains that are broken today are on major roads and attracted a lot more attention, but it’s not unusual for us to have five or six breaks in one day in the summer as it gets warmer, things shift around a little bit in the ground.”
They are working to make things better. The mains that broke on St. Joe Center Rd. and Clinton St. are thin-ironed pipe from the 1940’s to 1970’s. Suarez said this material has been causing issues and they will be replacing it around town. It makes up about 17 percent of the pipe in Fort Wayne.
The city has 1,403 miles of pipe. On average, there are about 350 water main breaks a year. Last year, there were 260. In 2014, there were 600.
So far in 2018, there have been 117 breaks.
Suarez explained that the goal is to replace around 14 miles of pipe per year for the next five years to catch up on replacing the 350 miles of pipe that are beyond useful life.
They currently spend $2 million a year to repair, maintain and replace pipes. The average cost of repairing a main break is $5,000.
The city has been studying water mains for five years in an attempt to create a long term source of funding in a more proactive way. They are also seeking technology improvements in the type of product that’s being installed. This means pipes that last longer and allow for more shift in the ground surrounding it so it’s not as threatened to break. When dirt surrounding the pipe cracks, it can cause weight to shift onto the pipe in harmful ways that cause breaks.
Suarez concluded that overall the total breaks per year has trended downwards for the last few years.