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Ask the Town: What Causes a Water Line Break?

This week: There has been a sudden surge in water line breaks and leaks occurring around town. Here's why.

"Ask the Town" is a new weekly series that features Vienna Public Information Officer Kirstyn Barr answering reader questions about anything and everything Vienna. Have a question? Leave it in the comments below; we'll answer it next week.

This Week: What causes a water line break?

As you may have noticed, there has been and leaks occurring around town. It leads one to wonder ‘what causes a water line break?’

Many factors can cause a break to occur, but most commonly it is found that extreme fluctuations in temperature are the main contributors. Throughout the year, water and sewer pipes and all of their fittings do fine when the temperature increases and decreases are gradual. It’s when we have sudden spikes or drops in temperature that more breaks occur. This is due to that the pipe, its fittings and the environment it is in are dissimilar materials and have different thermal expansion rates. Basically, the pipe, fittings, dirt, asphalt all expand at different rates and when there is a sudden change in the temperature, either high or low, the materials change shape quickly thus causing stress and eventually break. The age and type of pipe do factor into the equation, but are not the main contributors, which is why breaks are random and unpredictable.

Overall, the town’s water and sewer system is in good shape. Last September, the Vienna Town Council received a detailed valuation study on the town’s water and sewer system. The purpose was to assess the current condition and remaining useful life ofthe system’s facilities and infrastructure, as well as determine the value of the system.

The report revealed that 95% of the water pipes are in good to fair condition and that overall the system is in good shape, especially considering the overall age of the system. Based on this, staff revised the Town’s Capital Improvement Plan Just last month, Town Council which includes $1.59 million

The recent increase of water breaks occurring in town should not be seen as a
reflection of the condition of the water and sewer infrastructure and residents should rest assured that the system is in good working order. The town’s Public Works Water and Sewer Division will continue to work diligently to repair breaks as they occur and restore water service to affected homes quickly and efficiently.

- Kirstyn Barr

Public Information Officer, Town of Vienna

Barnaby Harkins July 12, 2012 at 01:06 PM
I'm curious as to why most of the breaks are in SE and SW?
Kirstyn Barr July 12, 2012 at 02:40 PM
Unfortunately, water main breaks/leaks are unpredictable and random; there is no specific reason why the breaks lately are occurring in those parts of town.
Mark Nelson July 12, 2012 at 02:54 PM
Last summer, the town spraypainted markings for new water lines on Saint Roman Drive (which is outside the town limits but serviced by Vienna). I attended the Town Council meeting in the fall where they passed the funding to replace the water lines. Work still has not begun. Mark Nelson
Erica R. Hendry July 12, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Thanks Mark -- we'll get your question answered for next week's column!
Ross Shearer July 12, 2012 at 06:01 PM
It's hard to accept that the system is in fair to good shape given the facts of multiple breaks. Given that the ground work for the "detailed evaluation study"likely preceded the August 23 earthquake, did the Town engineers consider the possible role of the quake in weakening the water system's resistance to temperature change? Ross

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