Area of Topeka endures nearly 10 water main breaks within month

TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - One day without water is hard enough, but imagine eight to 10 water main breaks in the last two to three weeks alone.

“Oh my gosh, really frustrating,” Kathy Brayton, Chief Financial Officer of SLI, said.

That's what businesses off SW Croix and Harrison in Topeka – including SLI – are dealing with.

“We have a day program for folks with disabilities, and we have about between 35 and 50 people every day. Once the water’s off, of course they can’t use water, go to the bathroom, anything like that,” Brayton said.

The latest happened just before Noon Friday.

“It was a little crazy,” Steve Picotte, Director of Technology for SLI, said. “We had about ten people milling around, some people with the brooms pushing the water away from the door to keep it from going inside the building.”

The Shawnee County Election Office has also felt the burden of no running water. Employees are currently using a trailer unit for bathroom access.

“It’s unfortunate, kind of unprecedented to have that many breaks that close together, but everybody’s working, I think, the best they can at doing what they can for us,” Andrew Howell, Shawnee County Elections Commissioner, said.

Jack Mason, Topeka Water Systems general manager, says the problem is a combination of aging infrastructure and dry weather, creating a domino effect of sorts.

“Once the main breaks, we end up shutting the system down, it depressurizes it, it actually puts a different kind of stress on the system and then we have to repressurize it,” Mason said. “It’s like taking your car and running it from zero to 60 back and forth, back and forth. It puts pressure and stress on the system and more breaks will occur.”

Mason said, as of Aug. 15, Topeka has had 559 water main breaks this year, compared to 234 at the same time in 2017. In August alone, the city had 93 water main breaks at the mid-way point of the month.

Though frustrating, Mason says the city is doing the best they can to get the area back to full function. He says 40 people are staffing two crews that are out 24/7 - and still can't keep up.

“We can’t control what happens underground. We like to get these as fast and as quickly as possible,” Mason said. "Periodically, we are forced to call in private contractors because this year has been so bad."

Local businesses hope that the city can get on top of the problem soon.

"We know that there's a lot of problems with the water and each time it seems like they try to fix one, another one pops up,” Brayton said.