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November 29, 2012

Salem water main break reflects larger problem

SALEM, N.H. — A water main break yesterday morning was an inconvenience for residents of two homes, the Public Works Department and some drivers. But it also was a reflection of what’s going on with the town’s aging infrastructure.

At 7 a.m., a 16-inch water line near the intersection of Cluff and Castle Ridge Roads split, according to Rick Russell, head of the town’s DPW.

“The pipe was sitting on ledge, the result of poor installation back in the 1970s,” Russell said. “For a main that big, we’re very lucky we could isolate it to that small an area.”

Water was shut off to two homes and two fire hydrants for much of the day while workers broke out ledge beneath the line and repaired the break. Cluff Road was closed from Lawrence Road to the entrance to BJ’s while the work was done. Russell said he expected repairs to be complete by the end of the day yesterday.

It’s a scene repeated about 25 to 35 times a year in town, he said, with most breaks occurring from November through April.

Later in the winter, frost plays a role in pipes splitting or breaking. Cast iron water lines, dating back before 1980, are very brittle, Russell said.

And Salem has a lot of those pipes.

“I would say 80 percent of Salem’s infrastructure is cast iron,” he said. “We have miles of that still in our infrastructure.”

The town now uses ductile iron pipes, which are much stronger and more forgiving.

The aging underground infrastructure isn’t specific to Salem, he said.

It’s a national problem and it doesn’t stop with water and sewer, he said. It includes roads, bridges, culverts and more.

“The American Waterworks Association actually recommends annual replacement of 3 to 5 percent on a municipality’s infrastructure,” Russell said. “But I couldn’t tell you another community that is doing that.”

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