City of Tulsa dealing with more water line breaks

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Reported by: Ian Silver
Updated: 2/11 6:43 pm Published: 2/11 4:30 pm

The city of Tulsa worked to repair close to 30 water line breaks Tuesday afternoon.

The city is on track to break a record for most water line breaks in one month. The record was in August of 2011, when there were 303 breaks. Just 11 days into February there have been nearly 150 breaks.

“He said there was water bubbling up from the seam in the driveway and out on the street. And, of course, we’ve got a little slope here, and so we’ve got a nice little ice rink going on,” said Angelia Warren. She lives near one of the water line breaks that happened Tuesday.

She said crews shut off her water early Tuesday morning and before long, her driveway was torn up.

“It was quite a shock,” she said.

A 6-inch line was leaking at a joint. Crews have to replace at least 20 feet of pipe. It is part of a network of lines originally laid back in the 1940s, '50s and '60s.

“The fact that it’s 70 years old, I’m just impressed it’s lasted this long,” she said.

But Warren knows eventually the whole line will have to be replaced.

“I think we need to spend whatever it takes to get to get the city where it needs to be. We have to keep our infrastructure up and running because that’s what keeps our city up and running,” she said.

And while it is inconvenient to have no water and no driveway, she said she would gladly take the temporary interruption again if it meant the city could fix the problem, rather than just patch it up.

“I understand that it’s going on all over the city, and I’m just glad that they’re moving so quickly to get it taken care of for everyone,” she said.

After close to 30 breaks Monday and more than 30 Tuesday, things are only going to get worse over the next few days as temperatures warm up and the ground starts shifting again.
Charlie Mooney said he’s not surprised by all the breaks that have happened during this cold snap, considering much of Tulsa’s water line infrastructure is 60 to 70 years old.

“We need new water lines. The old cast-iron stuff is just breaking everywhere,” said Mooney.

In fact, nearly 1,000 of the 2,300 miles of water lines in Tulsa are still cast-iron. The older metal has worn down and has no flexibility to absorb shifts in the ground.

FOX23 looked into how the city is updating the water line network, but since city crews were all tied up, we went to the source of all the city’s pipe supplies: utility supply company.

“Generally, when the city is going to make an emergency repair on a broken water line, they’re going to patch the hole with a clamp that looks like this. But when they do get funding to actually replace lines, they rip out the old cast-iron pipes that are falling apart and replace them with PVC or ductile-iron pipes like these because these last significantly longer,” said Mooney.

The city also packs the area around the new lines with gravel, which creates more give when the ground shifts and puts less pressure on the pipes.

Mooney said $60 million for such water line replacements over the next 5 years is a big step in the right direction.

“They’re trying. I mean, it will take a long time to get them all fixed…I mean, all new lines put in,” said Mooney.

But he thinks we should be spending even more for replacements, since right now the city has to budget $9 million a year to keep repairing the old lines.

“Get the good PVC pipes and everything in, yeah, I think it will save a lot of money over the long run,” he said.

It’s hard to say exactly how long new PVC pipes will last since there are a lot of variables, like drought and weather. But the experts at a utility supply company said they should definitely last a lot longer than the 60 to 70 years the cast-iron pipes have lasted.

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