Water main breaks surge during drought; rain could help or hinder

Friday, August 31, 2012 | 8:13 p.m. CDT; updated 3:27 p.m. CDT, Saturday, September 1, 2012

COLUMBIA — The city has seen triple the number of water main breaks this month as compared to August 2011. Although the drought is the primary cause, there's a chance the heavy rain from Tropical Depression Isaac will soak previously parched soil and cause more breaks.

Columbia Water and Light Department spokeswoman Connie Kacprowicz said there were 85 reports of water main breaks from Aug. 1 through noon Friday, compared to 25 breaks in August 2011.

The breaks caused 588 customers to lose water service temporarily. The number of people affected by individual breaks ranged from as low as one on two occasions, to 279, all of whom were affected at an apartment complex.

Estimates on the cost of water main repairs in August were unavailable, Kacprowicz said.

When a water main breaks and water pressure drops below 20 pounds per square inch, the city issues boil advisories in accordance with recent Department of Natural Resources requirements. A boil advisory is not the same as a boil order, which is issued when there is a definitive finding that water is contaminated, Kacprowicz said.

A boil advisory is "more of a heads-up," she said.

Boil advisories and other methods of notification are posted on the City of Columbia website. Water sample tests on repaired mains have shown no signs of contamination. Additional water main breaks have caused Water and Light staff to work "non-stop" this summer to minimize the duration of service interruptions, Kacprowicz said.

"The biggest challenge we have is just the sheer number of water main breaks."

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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