Aging Infrastructure, Frigid Temps Contribute To Water Main Breaks

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TOPEKA, Kansas (WIBW) -- Below-zero temperatures over an expanded period of time, added onto an aging infrastructure, is causing more water main breaks than usual around the Capital City.

More water mains are bursting in Topeka than usual this year: 74 in January and 15 so far in February. The city averages around 500 water main breaks per year.

If that seems like a lot, it is.

"We have an aging utility infrastructure," Utilities Superintendent Don Rankin told 13 News. "A lot of our systems were installed back after World War II, in the 1950s. We have infrastructure here in Topeka, wate and sewer mains, have been in since the 1800s."

The recent frigid temperatures have added to the problem as well, freezing the ground, and forcing the pipes to rupture.

2011 and 2012 was a drought period, which stressed the underground system, as soil shifted away from the pipes. In 2012, city utilities crews were sent out to a record 1,000 water main breaks. Coming out of the drought period in 2013 and 2014, the city continues seeing a high number of water main breaks. There were 101 in January 2013.

And they're not cheap.

"We need to be targeting replacing 8 miles of water main every single year, and the problem is that it costs $6 million a year," Rankin said.

The city has so far replaced around 120 out of the 850 miles of water mains.

Rankin said the issue now is Topeka, and many other cities, doesn't have a regular rate replacement program. He said across the United States, cities are in a time period where funds need to be committed to replacing water and sewer mains every single year.

City Council on Tuesday approved $2 million toward the utilities department, but it's not enough to cover the $6 million dollars needed to maintain and replace mains.

"This causes outages, it's disruptive in the community. Number one is cost. Water main breaks, on average, cost $4,000 per break."

The goal is to replace all the mains so that they last another 75 to 100 years.

Water main breaks are an issue in the summertime as well because of the high demand for water.

Rankin says, however, he doesn't expect the increased number of breaks to continue this year.