Dry summer meant tough break for water mains
Park Ridge Public Works employee Pat Navin shovels debris during a water main break restoration in August. Dry summer weather has been blamed for an increase in main breaks this year. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 4, 2013 6:01AM
Local public works directors agree that 2012 was a tough one in terms of water main breaks.
“This summer was so bad,” said Niles Public Works Director Scott Jochim about the ruptures.
Hot and dry weather conditions this summer have been blamed for causing a higher than normal number of main breaks across the area. Water mains are underground pipelines that deliver lake water to residents, businesses and other users.
Breaks occur when holes or cracks develop in the underground pipes that transport the water. The temperature, ground settlement (which can occur during dry spells) or the type of material used in the pipe can cause breaks.
Between January and December there were 180 water main breaks throughout the village of Niles. Though he did not have specific numbers available, Jochim said the amount of breaks was higher than in past years.
“I know we’re over budget,” Jochim said, referring to the amount of money spent on overtime to pay workers to fix the main breaks this year.
In 2012 there were about 10 water main breaks on Monroe Street alone. Jochim said that when there are too many water main breaks in one area the village replaces pipelines instead of just repairing them.
“We don’t want businesses or residents to be out of water,” Jochim said. He explained that main breaks can sometimes take six or more hours to repair.
In Park Ridge, the situation was very similar this year.
From May 1 through December Park Ridge experienced 65 water main breaks — and the city usually averages 50 or 55 for the entire year, explained Park Ridge Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim.
“The ground was so dry,” Zingsheim acknowledged.
Park Ridge also had 22 water service leaks in 2012.
“We haven’t even hit the hardest part of the year,” Zingsheim added, explaining that most breaks tend to occur during cold-weather months.
Zingsheim said his department went over the city’s $50,000 budget for overtime pay this year and will likely transfer money from the construction fund in order to have funds in the budget for all future water main breaks.
“A main break is something you can’t let run,” Zingsheim said. “People need to have water so whenever they occur we need to fix them. Unfortunately, a lot of times they seem to happen on a weekend or at night.”
The city is also working to replace pipe that is not so durable, though the process has been slow due to the cost involved.
In Morton Grove the increase in main breaks was not as significant as in Niles and Park Ridge, though there were more in 2012. The village had 67 water main breaks this year compared to the 64 that they had in 2011.
Joe Dahm, division superintendent of Public Works for the village of Morton Grove, said materials used in the water mains during the late 1950s were not as good as the materials used in the 1920s and 1930s. He said the part of town that is on the west side of the north branch of the Chicago River has more annual water main breaks than the east side does because the materials on the west side deteriorate faster.
For the severe water main breaks, Dahm said the village pays workers overtime so they can be repaired.
“We take care of it right away,” said Dahm. “You don’t want to let ice build up on the street.”
—Jennifer Johnson contributed to this story