Cold weather, old pipes blamed for water main breaks

January 2, 2013 5:53:50 PM PST
The cold weather overnight is being blamed for contributing to at least five water main breaks throughout the East Bay.

Crews worked continuously to ensure the lane of traffic that had been blocked, was reopened by rush hour. More than 300 people had their service interrupted due to the water main breaks. Officials say it's all because of the cold weather and aging infrastructure.

"Pipes break," said Charles Hardy with EBMUD. "4,200 miles of pipe in the ground, they're old and they break periodically."

Pipes on the UC Berkeley campus were just one set of five to give way in the East Bay. The impact to students and staff was minimized because of the academic holiday. Most offices and dorms were empty.

Across town at Camelia and 6th streets, it was as different story. At least a dozen families woke up Wednesday morning to find that they had no running water. A rupture in the pipe caused a mini river to form down 6th Street.

Seasoned veterans of East Bay MUD used their 'ace in the hole' to get service back online before noon, "Normal time is eight to ten hours," Hardy said.

The first main to give way happened Tuesday night in Concord at Salvio and Mt. Diablo streets. That break only affected a few homes. Crews worked through the night to get service back online.

The biggest problem was in Hayward at Santa Clara and Jackson streets. Around 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, reports of the break made its way to City Hall. By 5 a.m., crews had identified the problem and were digging up a section of Santa Clara Street and Highway 92 to fix the busted pipe.

More than 300 customers were without water. The problem was a section of 12-inch pipe. Made in 1952, the asbestos-cement pipe has become a casualty of age and weather.

"Tremendous amounts of rain we had in the last two storms played a role, the fact that we had some cold spells recently, contributed to the problem as well," said Alex Ameri, director of utilities and environmental services at the Hayward Department of Public Works. Repairing that break forced the closure of one lane of traffic, which added to the urgency to get the job finished as quickly as possible.

There was also a report of a water main break in the Oakland Hills off of Highway 13.

Five water main breaks, all within a 24-hour period, once again shine a spotlight on the aging infrastructure problems throughout most of the Bay Area and the role weather plays in challenging those old and hidden pipes.