Cold snap causes several water main breaks in Madison Heights

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published January 10, 2018

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MADISON HEIGHTS — Frigid weather appears to be the reason that two water mains burst in the days after Christmas, briefly causing discoloration in the water supply that was reportedly unsightly, but safe.

The city quickly resolved the issue. The first water main broke the evening of Dec. 26. While it was being repaired the morning of Dec. 27, a second broken water main was called in and then fixed the same afternoon. One was on Moulin Avenue, between Dequindre Road and Rose Street, and the other was on Parliament Avenue, between Hales Street and Denise Street. Both are iron water mains that date back to the mid-1950s.

“There are multiple factors that can cause a water main break,” explained Sean Ballantine, public services analyst and planner for the Madison Heights Department of Public Services (DPS). “The primary two are occasional pressure issues in the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) system, and the cold weather. In the case of cold, the frost traveling through the ground causes it to shift, which can cause the underground mains to crack.”

He noted that the increased volume of water going through the system due to the break caused the water to become discolored from the rust and sediment in the pipes. The water was still safe to drink, however, since it had been properly treated and chlorinated by the GLWA. 

“A main break does not change this,” Ballantine said. “Water would be declared unsafe to drink or a boil water advisory would be present (only) if there was the potential for bacterial contamination, such as a broken sewer in conjunction with the main break, or a low-pressure situation where contaminants could enter the system. These situations are extremely rare.

“If there is discolored water running through the water system in the area, continuing to run the faucets will only serve to pull more discolored water into the home,” he added. “By waiting an hour or so, the sediment will have either made it through the system or otherwise calmed down. We recommend a laundry tub or bathtub, as opposed to the kitchen or bathroom sink, because these faucets do not have aerators on them. The aerators can become clogged with sediment.”

Residents are notified directly by a combination of door-knocking or orange tags hung on the doors informing them that their water will be turned off due to a main break. They are notified of completion in the same manner. In the event of a multiple break situation, residents will also be notified through media outlets including the city cable channel, city website, social media and the Nixle phone alert system. Typically, a maximum of 20 homes are affected by any given main break. 

The DPS worked in conjunction with a contractor to perform the repairs. Once the affected section is isolated, it’s dug up and either banded with a repair strap or replaced, depending on the severity of the break. The pipes are 5-15 feet underground, typically in the greenbelt on the side of the road; new mains are installed under sidewalks, and in rare cases they exist under the curb or even a few feet into the road. 

The water main network spans 131 miles worth of pipe. Most water mains in the city are made of iron, with the oldest dating back to the 1930s. The city has been slowly replacing them with PVC pipes since 1997. PVC pipes have a life expectancy of at least 100 years. The newest mains were installed this past summer. 

“Our 20-year track record with this type of main has yielded nothing but excellent results,” Ballantine said. 

Madison Heights City Councilman David Soltis commended the DPS for its quick work.

“I just think our DPS does a tremendous job all the way around. They’re kind of the unsung heroes where they do important work behind the scenes. And a lot of times, we take them for granted, myself included. But they always come through,” Soltis said. “As soon as the water lines broke, (DPS Director) Joe Vitali and his crew got on it and fixed it as soon as possible. These things happen all throughout southeast Michigan — it’s nothing indigenous to Madison Heights. It’s just the region and the age of all this infrastructure, coupled with this arctic freeze coming through.”