EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


January 9, 2013

Did earthquake weaken water pipes, causing leaks?

City officials ponder theory about problems with water mains

HAVERHILL — As underground water pipes continue to break in the city, experts are debating the causes.

The recent wide range of temperatures has been suggested — freezing and thawing of water mains and the soil around them.

The age of pipes is almost certain to be a factor, according to experts. They say it’s simple: The older the pipe, the more likely it is to spring a leak. Haverhill’s water system is among the oldest in the nation.

But could the earthquake that hit the region late last year be a reason for the breaks? It’s possible, said Robert Ward, director of the city’s water and sewer departments.

As Ward and his staff dealt with a broken water main yesterday near Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill’s third break in the last three days, he pondered something he heard about broken water pipes in other area communities, and that the earthquake is being eyed as a contributing factor.

“There has been talk that the earthquake in October may have had an effect on older pipes in the area, although I’m not aware of any research into that,” Ward said. “There are some people out there who are starting to think about that. But there’s not a lot you can do if the ground shifted, other than do some leak detection as one option.”

He said that when leaks are found, they can be repaired before they turn into major breaks.

“You can also test pipes and, if you find a section that is starting to weaken, you can schedule it for replacement before you have a catastrophic failure,” he said.

On Oct. 16 at 7:12 p.m., an earthquake hit southern Maine and rumbled through New England. The U.S. Geological Survey initially estimated the quake as having a magnitude of 4.6, but later downgraded it to 4.0. The epicenter, about 3 miles west of Hollis Center, Maine, was about 3 miles deep. That location is about 20 miles west of Portland. According to the Maine Department of Conservation, the earthquake was widely felt across central and southern New England from Bangor, Maine, to Hartford, Connecticut, with scattered reports as far as northern New Jersey and central New York State.

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