The City of Morganton, and surrounding water providers, have been dealing with an above average number of water line breaks these past few months, and as winter approaches, residents should know that more breaks are likely. However, residents can be assured that City workers are ready to respond.
This fall, Morganton, and the region, experienced a drought that left soil extremely dry. The dry soil shrunk and left voids around water lines in some places. Voids increase the stress on water pipes.
"We witnessed this during a recent repair [in October] where the soil was dry and cracked ten feet below the surface," Water Resources Director Brad Boris said. "Voids around water lines offer no support, and a shift in the line causes a break."
As for water main breaks related to cold weather, several factors come into play.
Most water line breaks are due to the age and material of the pipe. Older pipes and brittle cast iron pipe are more susceptible to breaking.
During cold weather, pipes shrink. That puts extra stress on pipes joints and segments, which often leads to pipe failure. Also, the ground surrounding pipes will expand, shift, and shrink during “freeze and thaw” cycles. That soil movement also puts additional stress on pipes, which can cause them to break. Unfortunately, there’s not much anyone can do about it.
“Water line breaks are just part of the business, and they happen all across the country,” Boris said. “But the important thing is that we’re prepared to handle the breaks and our crews are trained and committed to restoring water service as quickly as possible when there is a break.”
The City of Morganton has approximately 331 miles of water lines in the distribution system, some of which dates back to the early 1900’s. Most of the recent breaks were on old brittle cast iron pipes installed in the 1950’s.
“It’s very important that we maintain, repair, and replace the City’s water infrastructure,” Boris said. “As part of our infrastructure replacement strategy, we use more flexible and corrosion resistant zinc coated ductile iron water lines when replacing pipes or installing new lines. This is a big improvement that will help in reducing breaks."
For more information, or to report a water line break, call 828-438-5276.
Breaks can have large impacts
Around 4:00 am on Jan. 11, 2017, the City water system started losing a lot of water. The levels in some of the City water tanks dropped way below normal. By 11:30 am, the City Water Treatment Plant had issued a call to conserve water while workers searched for the problem. The plant was on track to produce 16 million gallons of water that day, which is double the average daily consumption for January. Thankfully, an observant resident saw and reported the leak that afternoon. An 8-inch, private fire service water line at a local company had ruptured and was thousands of gallons of water a minute. Such breaks on large lines can have a dramatic impact on the system if they are discovered and repaired quickly.
Protect your pipes this winter
These suggestions will help homeowners prevent freezing pipe damage:
- Pipes in attics and crawl spaces should be protected with insulation or heat. Pipe insulation is available in fiberglass or foam sleeves. Home centers and hardware stores have sleeves providing 1/8 to 5/8 inches of insulation; specialty dealers have products that provide up to 2 inches of insulation
- Heating cables and tapes are effective in freeze protection. Select a heating cable with the UL label and a built-in thermostat that turns the heat on when needed (without a thermostat, the cable has to be plugged in each time and might be forgotten). Follow the manufacturer’s instructions closely.
- Doors on cabinets under kitchen and bathroom sinks should be left open during cold spells to allow the warmer air of the room to circulate around the pipes.
- Exterior pipes should be drained or enclosed in 2-inch fiberglass insulation sleeves.
- Pipes leading to the exterior should be shut off and drained at the start of the winter. If these exterior faucets do not have a shut-off valve inside the house, have one installed by a plumber.
- Hoses should be removed and stored inside during the winter.
- Let faucets drip slowly to keep water flowing through pipes that are vulnerable to freezing. Ice might still form in the pipes, but an open faucet allows water to escape before the pressure builds to where a pipe can burst. If the dripping stops, it may mean that ice is blocking the pipe; keep the faucet open, since the pipe still needs pressure relief.