News Feature | May 29, 2014

Water Main Breaks Plague Milwaukee

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome


Many cities struggle with crumbling water infrastructure, but almost nobody had it as tough as Milwaukee this month. 

"Milwaukee Water Works utility crews and outside contractors are repairing an extraordinary number of water main breaks, most of them on the northwest side, after a south-side pumping station was shut down because of a leak in a water main," the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported

At least 33 water mains broke in a two-day period, Carrie Lewis, superintendent of the Milwaukee Water Works, told the Journal Sentinel. Later counts had the number at 50. 

The problem is that the city shut down one of its two water treatment plants in May, placing an extra burden on the plant that remained open, according to Fox6Now. 

"When the Linnwood Plant took on the extra load — the water pressure was increased to get drinking water to the entire city and beyond," the report said. "The extra pressure was too much for some older pipes — and that led to dozens of water main breaks."

City officials said they expected some water mains breaks, but not nearly as many as they got. "Now, they’re working to get them all repaired. There is only so much pressure a 60-year-old cast iron pipe can take," the report said.

Repercussions were widespread across the city. "Milwaukee Water Works officials say the pipeline was shut down to protect the pumping station from damage from the water leak," the report said. 

The problems did not appear to threaten public health. WISN reported: "City officials said the water [remained] safe to drink." 

Wisconsin has reported $6.2 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs over the next 20 years, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Image credit: "Broken pipe," zerok © 2008, used under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license:

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