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PWSID: Frequently Asked Questions and Answers About Main Breaks Issue Date: 11-23-2015

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers About Main Breaks

If our crews locate a water main or service line break near your home, repairs may temporarily affect your water service. Since we know that any disruption to your water service is an inconvenience, we’ve prepared this information to answer some of the questions you may have.

What causes a water main to leak or break?
How long will the repairs take?
When will permanent pavement restoration of the area occur?
Will my water be shut off?
Is water quality affected?
How can I stay informed about repair progress?
What is Virginia American Water doing to prevent main breaks?
For More Information





 

What causes a water main to leak or break?

  • Water main breaks generally occur when there is movement in the ground or a big change in water temperature. When the soil shrinks or swells, it puts a lot of tension on water pipes and can make them snap across the diameter of the pipe as soil tries to bend or shift the pipe position under its weight.
  • Freezing and thawing of soil creates a lot of movement. We install our pipes below the frost line to avoid not only the freezing of water in the pipe, but also the excessive movement of soil. This tension is increased when water temperature drops, usually starting in October, when the cold temperature further contracts the pipe material. That is why our "main break season" typically starts in October, and continues through the winter.
  • In Alexandria, there are a lot of Marine clays which shrink and swell more than typical soils due to changing moisture content. Big changes in rainfall cause big changes in their volume. Therefore Marine clays are a problem all year due to the high degree of shrinking and swelling, and in some areas of Alexandria, have caused problems with building foundations and roadways. With these soils, it is also common for us to get breaks in the summer.
  • Some water mains crack or leak because they have reached their useful life. Alexandria’s water system was started in 1850, prior to the Civil War, so much of the City’s pipes are due for replacement. Virginia American Water has an ongoing infrastructure renewal program where we look at aging infrastructure, changing fire flow requirements, water quality, and maintenance history to replace old water mains each year. 

 How long will the repairs take?

The length of time to make the repair depends on a number of factors, including:

  • Length of time for Miss Utility to arrive. By law, we must call 8-1-1 (Miss Utility) to request professional locators who mark the pavement for underground gas, electric or sewer lines. We cannot excavate and begin repairs until the pavement is marked.
  • How quickly we are able to locate the break. Once the pavement is marked, we drill into the pavement to locate the leak or main break. Water can travel far underground before surfacing, so some breaks are easier to find than others.
  • The nature of the leak. Until we excavate and uncover the leak we won’t know whether the problem is with a valve or the main pipe.  Sometimes we can make the repair with a “sleeve” around a leak, but other times we must replace a valve or an entire section of pipe. Sometimes there are other utilities in the way that complicate repairs.

Crews work as quickly as possible, and in most cases, are able to complete the repair in four to eight hours. Once the main break is repaired, the excavated area must be backfilled and pavement temporarily restored. The temporary restoration is rough but serviceable, and will be completed with permanent restoration at a later time.

 When will permanent pavement restoration of the area occur?

Permanent restoration usually takes place several weeks after the leak is repaired to allow time for any additional settling that may occur as the ground dries out. We check the integrity of the temporary restoration on a regular basis, but if you see settling or “pot holes” develop, please let us know at 1-800-452-6863.

 Will my water be shut off?

Water in our pipes is under pressure, but when possible, we can make the repair without shutting off the water.  However, when the flow of pressurized water is too great, we need to temporarily shut off the water during the repair work.  We apologize for this inconvenience and work as quickly as possible to minimize the disruption.

 Is water quality affected?

Usually water quality is not affected by the leak. If we suspect there is a possibility that water quality has been affected, we will issue a precautionary boil water notice.  This notice will stay in effect until we have time to verify water quality in the laboratory, at which time the precautionary boil water notice will be lifted. However, please note that when water service is restored, you may notice air in your pipes and the water may be rusty, or yellow brown in color. Rust particles accumulate in water mains and can be stirred up as valves are operated and water flow patterns are changed. The discoloration isn’t harmful but can stain. We typically flush out the water main after repairs to remove air and rust, but are unable to flush out your individual service line. Just let the water run a few minutes in your home to get rid of the air and color. If the problem persists, let us know at 1-800-452-6863, and we will flush the main again.

 How can I stay informed about repair progress?

During main breaks, Virginia American Water posts updates on Facebook (www.amwater/facebook/va) and Twitter  (@vaamwater).

 What is Virginia American Water doing to prevent main breaks?

In all our districts, Virginia American Water continuously monitors, maintains and upgrades our systems in order to improve water service reliability, water pressure and fire protection.  

Since 2012, Virginia American Water has invested $53 million on capital expenditures to improve infrastructure throughout the state. Even as we make these investments, our tap water costs about a penny a gallon – an exceptional value!

Water infrastructure also is an important national issue, as increased demand from a growing population meets an aging, under-funded infrastructure.  The nation’s water systems have earned a D-minus grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers, and U.S. EPA projects that as much as $335 billion will need to be invested over the next 20 years if we are to keep clean water reliably at the tap. Our parent company, American Water, is at the forefront of research and developing solutions to ensure a sustainable water future for our customers.

 For More Information

Your safety, as well as the safety of your neighbors and our workers is important to us.  If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact our Customer Service Center at 1-800-452-6863.  


Zip Codes Affected:

Contact Information:
Name: Customer Service Center
Company: Virginia American Water
Phone: 1-800-452-6863

Secondary Contact Information: