City of Brotherly Water Main Breaks?

If you got to Bloktoberfest early on Saturday, you may have noticed a hint of panic among the South Street West merchants as they realized that the water had suddenly been shut off, without notice. Well, you also may have noticed a similar phenomenon if you live in most of Center City and tried to say, take a shower around 12:30pm. Rather quickly, word trickled out that many were without water midday on Saturday due to a water main break at 3rd & Walnut.

Image from NBC10
Closer look

Just today, we got word of another water main break, this time on the 4200 block of Market Street. These breaks come on the heels of several water main breaks over the summer, with the 21st & Bainbridge break that’s still being cleaned up at the head of that class. So… what’s the deal with all the water main breaks lately? Is it time to rip up all the old pipes and start over?

21st and South on that fateful July night

Turns out that it’s just a matter of perception. Yes, the water system in Philadelphia needs updating, but not much more than any other major city that’s got a few hundred years on the books. According to the Inquirer, there were 965 water main breaks in fiscal year 2010 and only 531 breaks in fiscal year 2011, and the city averages about 750 breaks per year. Don’t know about you, but that’s WAY more than we ever would have expected.

So while it’s true that the city’s 3,100 miles of underground pipes have an average age of 67 years, the pipes are holding up this year about as well (or as poorly) as has been the standard over the past three decades. Thankfully, the Water Department has done a generally great job of cleaning up after breaks and restoring service to the majority of customers within a couple of hours.

Now if only that 21st & Bainbridge intersection would reopen…