EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 8, 2013

Broken water pipes drop pressure to homes

Officials baffled, think extreme temperature changes to blame

By Mike LaBella

---- — HAVERHILL — While the warmer weather was a welcome arrival, it caused an unexpected problem for residents of several city neighborhoods.

Three water main breaks within a few hours of each other on Sunday had city workers scrambling to make repairs and restore water pressure to homes.

The leaks baffled water officials. Robert Ward, director of the city’s water and sewer departments, said he could not recall so many leaks happening in such a short period of time. He said the problems were likely the result of temperature fluctuations causing expansion and contraction of cast iron water pipes and the soil around them. On Thursday, the temperature dropped into the single digits before rising into the low 40s over the weekend.

”It could have been the movement of the soil from freezing and thawing,’’ Ward said. “When you get frost in the ground, you can get some movement.’’

The leaks caused some homes to lose water pressure and some to get rusty water.

Ward said he planned to have a section of pipe from one of the breaks tested.

”We were going to send it to a lab to see if there’s anything we need to be concerned with, to see what shape it is in and what strength it has,” he said.

At 5 a.m. Sunday, city workers were alerted to water bubbling through the ground on Groveland Street in the area of Crowell Street, a few blocks east of Merrimack Valley Hospital.

”It was a fairly small leak of an 8-inch pipe, but it was enough that it required repairs,” Ward said.

Traffic was detoured onto side streets while repairs were being made, he said. The leak was repaired and back-filled by 11 a.m. About 50,000 gallons of water were lost, he said.

Workers were still at the Groveland Street site at 9 a.m. when the city was notified of another water main break at an apartment complex at 440 North Ave. Minutes later, the city was notified of another break on Boardman Street. Ward had to call in additional Water Department workers, while the Highway Department sent workers and a back hoe.

Ward said a 6-inch main that sprang a leak at the 440 North Ave. apartment complex was located about 100 yards off North Avenue and was on a road leading through the complex.

”The pipe cracked and we fixed it with a wrap-around stainless steel sheet,” Ward said.

Twenty units in the apartment complex experienced low or no water pressure for about three hours, he said. About 12,000 gallons of water was lost. Workers completed repairs and back-filling by 6 p.m.

Minutes after the leak was reported at 440 North Ave., a large 12-inch water main in the area of 234-240 Boardman St. ruptured, causing water to bubble up through the road surface and flow to Groveland Street and Water Street below.

“We lost a pretty good amount of water,” Ward said about the leak that took about six hours to repair and affected about 100 customers in that area.

Ward said the leak resulted in the loss of an estimated 216,000 gallons of water. Workers repaired the broken pipe by cutting out a broken section and replacing it. Repairs and backfilling were completed by 9 p.m.

Ward said the breaks had him scratching his head.

”We’ve had two in the past that were pretty close, but I can’t recall when we’ve had three,” he said. “Every winter when the temperature drops as it did last week, we experience a number of breaks, so it could have been that drop,” he said. “I’ve heard that other departments in the area are seeing similar rashes of breaks lately.”

Recent problems with leaks in the city’s water lines began New Year’s Eve, when a 12-inch main on Summer Street burst and water bubbled to the surface of the road, then flowed onto a side street leading down to Water Street.

Ward said about 15 customers in the Summer Street area lost water pressure for several hours while a work crew cut out a cracked section of cast iron pipe and replaced it with a new section of pipe. Including digging and back-filling the hole, workers spent about 16 hours at the site, Ward said.