Apr 27 2014Share

Big Leaks Require Big Damage

By Kathleen Ferris

There are dripping bathroom faucets and backyard irrigation puddles and then there are the big leaks. Age, accidents and weather regularly cause city water lines to break. In Phoenix water lines can reach 9 feet in diameter. These breaks rarely cause gushers or sink holes like breaks in older cities. In the Greater Phoenix Metro area water main breaks damage roads and sometimes sidewalks.

Phoenix has 7,000 miles of water mains and 5,000 miles of sewer lines, enough pipe to stretch to Washington, D.C., and back three times. In Phoenix, water mains break unexpectedly 1,200 to 1,500 times a year.

Fixing these breaks takes a team of knowledgeable people. Yet residents rarely notice and most breaks are fixed the same day they happen.

In Phoenix, as in many cities, it takes a couple shifts of utility workers to fix a break. Backhoes and other large equipment are moved in and out of place. The city turns valves on or off to reroute water and keep it flowing to businesses and homes. Sometimes residents closest to the break are out of water for a while so the city sends water department employees door to door to keep the neighbors up to date. Representatives from other utilities are called to the site to help city workers protect buried cables and gas lines in the area. If the break is on a major road, the media is notified and police officers come to the site to direct traffic. Street staff may be involved to repair the road after the break is fixed.

About half of Phoenix's massive, unseen water distribution lines are more than 30 years old. Aside from breaks and breaches, slow leaks in pipes can waste precious water and undermine infrastructure. Phoenix detects and fixes 5,000 small leaks in the system each year.

Arizona requires cities to keep water loss in their water mains to less than 10 percent. Phoenix keeps its water loss closer to 8 percent.

The good news: The city is financing a 5-year $1.1 billion Capital Improvement Program to develop its water and sewer system over the next few years. The improvements include fixing and replacing aging infrastructure underground. The project also will help the city fix and improve water treatment plants so it can continue to meet and exceed federal water quality standards. Find out more about big city water management at the Phoenix website.

For 45 years, Arizona Municipal Water Users Association has worked to protect our member cities’ ability to provide assured, safe and sustainable water supplies to their communities. For more water information visit

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