Water lines burst as temps plunge

Photo by Brian Trusdell
A work crew busily repairs the street in front of St. Michael’s Church on Alden Street in Cranford on the morning of Jan. 8 after fixing a water line that broke, one of 40 that had occurred since the beginning of the year in Union County due to two weeks of sub-freezing temperatures.

CRANFORD, NJ — The temperature is down, way down, and the number of water main breaks across New Jersey is up significantly, according to New Jersey American Water.

It’s almost a daily occurrence to see police blocking a road or street so construction crews can rip up the asphalt and repair the water line beneath. Within the past week alone, breaks were reported in Clark, Cranford, Garwood and Summit.

According to NJAA spokeswoman Denise Free, the company — which provides water to 191 towns through the state — is seeing 12 to 15 breaks per day, an increase of between 50 and nearly 100 percent from the eight breaks per day during the past 10 years.
As temperatures plunged to sub-freezing for two straight weeks, in Union County alone, NJAA has seen about 40 main breaks since the beginning of the year, Free told LocalSource. “That’s an average of about four per day in the county,” she said.

According to a report released in October by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and The Weather Company, an IBM subsidiary, this winter was predicted to feature colder-than-average and wet conditions in parts of the northern states.
“When we have weather like this it stresses the pipes,” Free told LocalSource in a Jan. 8 phone interview.

The frost line is about 20 feet below ground level, and when a freeze and thaw effect occurs, the ground shifts and breaks can occur, she said.
In addition to temperature, aging infrastructure plays a role.

Despite, NJAA spending $350 million per year in infrastructure repair and replacement, older pipes are generally weaker and more susceptible to breaking under harsh conditions. Water mains are not the only pipes to break during this time of year. Homeowner lines can burst as well, Free added.

To prevent home water lines from freezing and rupturing, Free outlined some steps residents can to take to avoid emergencies.
If kitchen or other sinks face outside walls, open the cabinets below them to allow warm air from inside the house to reach the pipes.
Allow a small trickle of water to run during overnight hours to keep pipes from freezing.

If pipes do freeze, shut off the water immediately. Don’t attempt to thaw frozen pipes unless the water is shut off.
Apply heat to a frozen pipe by warming the air around it. Avoid the use of kerosene heaters or open flames.
Once the pipes have thawed, slowly turn the water back on and check for cracks and leaks.

Freezing can often cause unseen cracks in pipes or joints that will leak when thawed.
“We appreciate customers patience as we work through these situations,” Free said. “Our employees are working overtime in freezing conditions to fix breaks and leaks to ensure customer service,” Free stated.