News Feature | August 24, 2016

Syracuse The Latest City To Use Data In The Fight Against Water Main Breaks

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Facing urgent water infrastructure challenges, Syracuse, NY, is trying to use data as a weapon against water main breaks.

Researchers from the University of Chicago are helping Syracuse apply data analytics to the hundreds of mains that break each year in the city. The estimated cost to replace water mains in Syracuse is $726 million, according to The Daily Orange, Syracuse University’s student newspaper. In 2014, there were 391 water main breaks.

The researchers are studying what contributes to pipe failure and how to make repairs quickly. The goal is to develop a model predicting which mains are most likely to bust, according to State Scoop.

“We’re at the point where the majority of water mains in the city are a century old or even older, so they’re probably past their useful life at this point,” Sam Edelstein, the city’s chief data officer, told StateScoop. “So we’re trying to think about, ‘How do you spend the money most effectively to replace them in a way that will be productive for the future?’”

For the researchers, the first step is examining the data the city already has.

“We’d love for them to be able to say, ‘A water main break is going to happen on the 200 block of East Washington Street next week, so you better go and fix it,’ but we also knew that probably wasn’t possible, but we also wanted more than just some descriptive statistics and exploratory analysis on what are the trends of water main breaks, we wanted to be predictive. So what we agreed to is that they were going to give us a list of which are the riskiest water mains in the city based on all of the previous information about water mains that we had,” Edelstein said.

Avishek Kumar, a fellow working on the project, described the range of factors that contribute to pipe failure.

“We want to look at, say, the age of the pipes replaced, the materials of the pipes, the diameter and location,” Kumar said. “From there, we can see in in certain parts of the city, the pipes are too old and need to be replaced, or find other factors and say different parts of the city where traffic would play a role.”

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner has repeatedly made calls for federal investment in city infrastructure, according to

To read more about water main breaks visit Water Online’s Water Loss Prevention Solutions Center.