Why do water main breaks happen?
Nearly a quarter-million times every year, a main break wastes water, disrupts service or causes property damage somewhere in the United States. That equates to about once every two minutes. Main breaks happen due to a variety of reasons and are a normal part of operating a water utility. Temperature changes or overly dry or wet weather can cause the ground to shift. This can result in breaks to the water main pipes. Older pipes may break due to corrosion and sudden fluctuations in the pressure. This sometimes occurs during periods of hot weather, when water usage increases for irrigation, extra laundry and showers, etc. The increased volume of water flowing through the pipes can put extra stress on a pipe that is already compromised. Main breaks are unpredictable, but when they happen, Vallecitos Water District considers it our top priority to restore service.
Timeline of a water main break:
A simple water main repair can be completed in six to eight hours, but large or complicated repairs may take several days. The steps involved are as follows:
- A leak is reported as a possible water main break.
- Vallecitos staff investigate the leak.
- If staff determines that the leak is a water main break, they determine whether the break can hold long enough to be scheduled for repair or if it is an emergency situation.
- If the leak has damaged the road or sidewalk, the area must be blocked off. If possible, traffic will be routed around it.
- Vallecitos staff notify the necessary crew of the emergency.
- Vallecitos staff notify other utilities to come and mark their utility lines. This step is required by law and Vallecitos may not begin to excavate until the area has been marked.
- Heavy equipment is brought in for the excavation. Some excavations can be very tricky, depending on what is underground, and repair crews may have to dig by hand around gas or electric lines.
- Once the crew reaches the main, they re-route the water to minimize service disruption by closing nearby valves. This process helps them isolate the main they are working on to stop the water flow while they work.
- Crews inspect the pipe and plan the best repair or replacement. At times, breaks require unique parts in order to be repaired. This can take hours or days, depending on the specialty of the part.
- Once the water main is repaired, the main must be thoroughly cleaned, disinfected, flushed, and pass water quality tests prior to being reconnected to the system. This process can take several hours, as Vallecitos’ number one concern is providing safe drinking water, which meets or exceeds all State and Federal standards. On rare occasions, the main may break again, as the water being turned on can cause a sudden increase in pressure causing weakened areas to separate and leak.
- Once the repair is complete and the main has been flushed and re-charged, the road or sidewalk will be repaired.
After a water main repair, you may see reddish discoloration in your water. This discoloration is caused by small amounts of sediments that get disturbed during the flushing process. These compounds pose no threat to health. You can eliminate the discoloration by running cold water for a few minutes through a tap without an aerator, such as the bathtub or outside spigot. You can always call the District at (760) 744-0460 if you have any water quality concerns.