Published: June 13, 2016

    Why Do Water Main Breaks Happen, And How do They Affect Me?

    Every day, over 850 Water main breaks occur in the United States. Depending on its severity, a water main break can leave you without water for hours, or under a boil water advisory until the break is repaired and the pipes flushed.

    Why does the US suffer so many water main breaks? The answer is more complicated than you might think.

    Temperature changes are the most common case of water main breaks. Sudden drops in temperature freeze the ground, putting pressure on pipes. Hot temperatures also increase the risk; a hot, dry environment can cause the ground to shift, warping or damaging pipes. Many pipes currently in use date back to the 1980s, and are made of iron, which can crack during extreme temperature changes.

    In addition to temperature changes, a number of factors can cause a pipe to burst, crack, or leak, including:

    • Corrosion
    • Damage caused by shovels, back hoes, or other equipment
    • Deterioration due to pipe age
    • Nearby construction or pipe repairs
    • Opening or closing fire hydrants too quickly
    • Soil erosion
    • Sudden increases in water volume or pressure.

    Large breaks are noticed almost immediately, either because they saturate the surrounding ground or cause impromptu and unwanted water fountains. Small holes and cracks in pipes, however, can go unnoticed for long periods of time.

    Risks Associated with Water Main Breaks

    Repairing a water main break may require water be shut off for an extended period of time, which is of course inconvenient. If possible, water is allowed to continue flowing, depending on water pressure and the extent of the damage.

    Cracks and breaks in water pipes can introduce contaminants into your water supply, including harmful organic and inorganic compounds from septic systems, the surrounding soil, and nearby industrial or agricultural facilities. The very act of repairing a water main in one area of pipe can cause lead from surrounding pipes to leach into drinking water.

    During repairs, your water provider may publish a boil water advisory. While boiling water will kill most microorganisms, it does nothing to remove toxins such as lead from water. in fact, as boiling evaporates, the concentration of such substances rises in the remaining water. Boil water advisories are also not retroactive—you may have been drinking contaminated water for some time if the break was small enough to go unnoticed.

    Once repairs are due, the pipes are flushed to remove contaminated water. Even so, when water service is restored, you need to run the tap for a few minutes to flush air, rust, and discolored water out of your own plumbing.

    With a Pelican Whole House Filter System with UV you receive safer, cleaner water even during water main breaks or other causes of boil water advisories. Capable of killing 99.9 percent of harmful microorganisms while removing inorganic contaminants and water treatment chemicals, our filters provide you with the best possible water at all times—even in those critical periods before boil water advisories are released.