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Life Cycle of a Water Main Break

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As the weather turns cold, water main breaks become more common. This is due to the expansion and contraction of the pipe material, weakening it. Pipe corrosion, soil conditions, age and ground movement can also cause a water main break, creating unexpected problems for customers and motorists.

Chatham County Utilities averages between 15 and 20 water main breaks per year and most occur in the winter months. 

During the busiest weeks, which are usually during sudden cold spells, Chatham County Utilities may be juggling 2 or more different water main breaks at one time. Obviously, there aren't enough crews to address each one simultaneously. The County prioritizes water main repairs based on several factors such as severity of the break, impact to customers and the environment, potential damage to public and private property, and unsafe traffic conditions due to street flooding. Emergency water main breaks can cause widespread service disruptions and are considered critical repairs.

Anyone observing water running from streets or sidewalks is encouraged to report the leak to CC Water. Please click here or call CC Water's 24-hour line at (919) 548-3006 or 919-303-0055. Kindly provide specific information about the location and appearance of the break when reporting a water emergency. 

  1. A leak is reported to CC Water's 24-hour emergency line (919-548-3006 or 919-303-0055), or if it is during business hours (919)542-8270 usually as a possible water main break. Sometimes the first indication is a water outage, and customer phone calls start the process.

  2. Customer Service dispatch an investigator to the scene. 

  3. The investigator uses different tools and techniques to determine whether the leak is indeed a water main break.

  4. If the investigator determines that the leak is a water main break, he or she also determines whether the break can hold long enough to be scheduled for repair or if it is an emergency situation.

  5. Often, the leak has caused damage to the road or sidewalk and the compromised area must be blocked off. Sometimes traffic can be re-routed around it. Sometimes the street must be closed completely. DOT are notified.  

  6. The foreman of the crew on duty for emergency repairs to notify him of the newly identified break and its priority.

  7. The foreman or crew notifies NC-ONE Call to send someone to the site to mark the utility lines. This step is required by law and CC Water may not begin to excavate until the area has been marked. 

  8. Heavy equipment, including a backhoe, is brought in for the excavation, though some excavations can be very tricky, depending on what is underground. Sometimes, repair crews have to dig by hand around gas or electric lines.

  9. Once the crew reaches the main, they must first re-route the water to minimize service disruption by closing nearby valves. This process helps them isolate the main they are working on to stop the water flow while they work.

  10. Then they must inspect the pipe and plan the best repair or replacement given the situation. 

  11. Many times they have the necessary parts on their trucks, but sometimes they need unique parts and must send for them. This can take hours or days, depending on the specialty of the part. 

  12. Once the water main is repaired, the main must be re-charged. This process can take up to an hour. On rare occasions, the main may break again as the water being turned on causes intense pressure in the system. 

  13. Once the repair is complete and the main has been re-charged, the road or sidewalk must be repaired. On very large jobs that can require hauling in dump trucks of gravel to backfill the hole and a serious road repair, too. 

  14. A simple water main repair can be completed in six to eight hours, but large or complicated repairs may take several days to a week.