Water main bursts are not getting more frequent

Tuesday, July 13, 2010 | 6:52 p.m. CDT

While it seems as if water mains have been bursting more frequently in recent weeks, numbers are about the same this year as they have been in previous years.

“We generally range somewhere between 50 and 100 each year, which is on average about one-to-two burst mains a week," said Connie Kacprowicz, utility services specialist with Columbia Water and Light.

At least four water main bursts have been reported in the past month, leading to boil advisories in nearby neighborhoods.

The latest boil advisory, issued Tuesday morning for customers in northeast Columbia, occurred as the result of a a 6-inch water main that burst on North Waterfront Drive.

The advisory will remain in place until all water has been tested for harmful bacteria, though the water main was repaired Tuesday afternoon.

“We’ve taken samples for bacteria and they should be OK. But we’ll come back tomorrow, 24 hours later, and if those are OK, then we lift the boil order," said Blaise Brazos, environmental laboratory supervisor with Columbia Water and Light.

"The boil order really is precautionary. We’re checking to make sure that everything is safe by flush-sampling upstream, downstream and in the middle,” Brazos said.

The number of boil advisories has increased recently because of a change in reporting procedures.

In the past, Columbia Water and Light had the power to assess situations and determine whether a boil alert should be issued.

Now, the state Department of Natural Resources has jurisdiction and requires water boil advisories for Columbia residents when water pressure levels drop below certain levels. 

Several of the recent water main breaks are due to road construction on the north side of town, Kacprowicz said.

While construction has led to two known bursts, she said the frequency is no higher this year than in previous years.

Customers are reminded that in the event of a water boil alert, the following city guidelines should be observed:

  • Boil water for three minutes before using it for cooking or drinking.
  • Do not use ice from an automatic ice maker. Remake it with water that has been boiled.
  • Use a bit of bleach to disinfect dishes and surfaces that come into contact with food. Immerse dishes for one minute in clean tap water that contains one teaspoon of unscented bleach per gallon of water.

Automatic phone systems alert customers to burst mains and subsequent water boil advisories. Customers should ensure their account information is up-to-date, reducing the need for hang-tagging, which is time-consuming and costly, Kacprowicz said.

“We want to make sure we can restore access to customers as soon as possible,” she said.


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