News Feature | January 29, 2014

Water Main Breaks Leave Philly With Long-Term Difficulties

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


A busted water main can wreak havoc on a city for months, as Philadelphia is learning this winter in a costly battle with its own infrastructure.

Late last year, a water main break in Northeast Philadelphia "prompted evacuations and school closures," ABC 6 reported. It is becoming increasingly clear that the repairs could take a few months. 

The water main break resulted "in major flooding and a widespread water outage across parts of the city," NBC 10 Philadelphia reported

It wasn’t a small rupture. 

"The busted 106-year-old cast iron pipe sent more than 20 million gallons of water gushing up to the streets -- flooding a daycare center filled with children and affecting out water service in at least eight different city zip codes,” the report said. 

Water main woes struck Philadelphia again this month.

"The 48-inch main broke around 5:30 a.m. on Saturday and caused flooding in the parking lot at the Baker's Centre on the 3400 block of Fox Street," NBC 10 Philadelphia reported in a separate piece

This break prompted an unusual scene for onlookers. 

"Rescue crews used small rafts to get ShopRite employees out of the store," the report said. "Officials with the water department managed to shut the main off and the water eventually receded."

“All you see is like a little lake in front of the store,” said Tarik, an employee at Ross, to CBS Philly. “And the mud, waves of mud all on the asphalt.”

A separate water main break in early January, again in Philadelphia, left customers with nothing to drink. The rupture to the 6-inch water main "left about 50 customers without water Sunday morning in Northeast Philadelphia," CBS Philly said in a separate piece. 

Winter is part of the problem. 

"The cause of the break was not immediately known, but officials say the cold temperatures may have been a factor," the report said. 

The repercussions of a water main break can extend all the way out beyond a year, as Philadelphia is well aware. 

"A water main break that occurred in July 2012 is still a very real problem for many Philadelphia residents. Neighbors say their homes suffered serious damage, they lost treasured personal items, and they're still fighting for compensation," WHYY reported.  

The city is paying out claims to residents who lost possessions, but the law caps what the city has to pay at $500,000.

Philadelphia is not the only city that faces major infrastructure challenges when it comes to water. But repairs, even sorely-needed ones, are expensive. 

"There are an estimated 240,000 water main breaks per year in the United States," according to a water infrastructure report card published last year by the American Society of Civil Engineers. 

"Assuming every pipe would need to be replaced, the cost over the coming decades could reach more than $1 trillion, according to the American Water Works Association (AWWA)," the report said. 

For more on tap water issues, check out Water Online's Drinking Water Analysis Solution Center

Image credit: "Untitled," © 2011 John Donges, used under a Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license:

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