Eau Claire, Wis. (WEAU) -- There have been a string of water main breaks in Western Wisconsin this winter. Monday morning the cities' eight water main break happened right back here on the 300 block of Mount Washington Avenue. Sixteen customers were without water until about 12:30 PM when water was turned back on and traffic was re-opened. On average the city sees ten water main breaks each year and there's still more winter left.
"We’ve had years in the past where we've had more than 10. Currently, right now, we're seeing frost in the street about 4 feet deep and that’s what's giving us the problems so far this year," says Jeff Pippenger who is the city's utilities administrator. He says the frost causes the ground to shift which can create cracks in the pipe.
"The older pipe that we have in the ground is cast iron pipe. That is less forgiving as far as when the ground starts shifting. The new type of pipe that we're putting in the ground is ductal iron and that has a little bit more forgiveness and we don’t see that type of pipe break that often," explains Pippenger.
This pipe was from 1946 but there are much older pipes under Eau Claire. Some that date back to the early 1900s. To tackle the problem of aging infrastructure the city plans out each year for the next five years in their capital improvement budget. 7 million is dedicated to streets.
"It looks at the pavement quality on the streets and it also looks at the utilities that are underneath that street and basically the street kind of drives when a utility needs to be replaced because the street is what gets used more and the life expectancy of that street isn't going to be as long those utilities."
"To me there's probably nothing as important as the city's infrastructure. It is essential to economic development...i think it is a real testament to the city and the city council that we are willing to put as much money as we do into capital projects," says Kathy Mitchell who serves on the Eau Claire City Council.
There are several streets to be overhauled this year as part of this capital budget. You can see the map of 2013 street construction projects at the link below. For one particularly bad road, Brackett Avenue, that reconstruction will likely be next year. They're going to spend another year researching and working with local businesses.
Pippenger says another reason why it may seem more water mains have been breaking lately than in the past is that the information of water main breaks is more readily availabe via social media like Facebook and Twitter. The city has been using those resources to spread the news of water main breaks.
From City of Eau Claire website:
WATER MAIN BREAK 2/11/13: There is a water main break on the 300 block of Mt. Washington Avenue. There will be approximately 16 customers out of water while the repair is completed. Utility employees are going door to door to notify the residents. Due to the location, the street will be closed to through traffic.
ROAD CLOSURE: Mt. Washingtion Avenue, from Menomonie Street to Quarry Street. Two barricades will have signs reading “Road Closed to Through Traffic” and placed at Menomonie Street and Quarry Street.