One water main failure costs Milwaukee $760,000 in pipeline repairs
Monday, June 16, 2014

One water main failure costs Milwaukee $760,000 in pipeline repairs

Crews have found the source of the leak at the Milwaukee Water Works' Texas Avenue Pumping Station that set in motion a series of events that led to as many as 76 broken water mains, largely on the north and northwest sides.

Water Works Superintendent Carrie Lewis told Common Council members on Wednesday that recommendations on how best to fix the underground leak in an 84-inch steel water main would be forthcoming.

The leak, she said, occurred at the intersection of a 45-degree angle between two pieces of pipe. To date, it has cost the city approximately $10,000 to fix each main, or $760,000.

The problems began Saturday at the Texas Avenue Pumping Station on the south side. Water Works crews found water coming through joints in the walls of the facility.

"We became very concerned about the structure of the facility and the bluff had become saturated with water," Lewis said.

The decision was then made to shut the Texas plant and the Howard Avenue Water Treatment Plant, one of two water treatment plants in the city. That left the Linnwood Water Treatment Plant to provide water to the service area, which includes Milwaukee and 15 other communities.

Lewis said that when water pressure from the Linnwood plant was increased, water mains began to break.

"In order for Linnwood to push water, Linnwood had to pump much harder. The pumps have to push harder to get to the far extremities of the system," Lewis said. "When you pump harder, the pressure near the treatment plants goes up."

Lewis said the pressure was about 10 pounds higher per square inch than normal. "The weak spots in the system is where we are seeing the failure," she said.

Water mains built between 1945 and 1965 are accounting for more than half of the water main breaks, Lewis said. Water mains laid in those years were of inferior quality. Mains that were put in the city in the late 1800s and early 1900s are still largely going strong, she said.

Ghassan Korban, commissioner of the city's Department of Public Works, said the city had no choice but to shut down the Texas Avenue Pumping Station and the Howard Avenue Treatment Plant.

"We recognized we would encounter some water main breaks," he said. "Nobody on our staff expected to see that number, but we had absolutely no choice to do what we did."

On average, the city experiences 500 to 600 water main breaks a year. During the recent outbreak, residents living near broken water mains have been without service for two to four hours.

It costs about $1 million to replace a mile of water mains. Lewis said she would be working with Mayor Tom Barrett and the council's Capital Improvements Committee to add more funding in the 2015 budget to replace aging water mains.

Mayor Tom Barrett talks about the City's water leak problems here: Interview with Mayor Barrett

The article above was reprinted from a Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel article published May 21, 2014.

PICA can help to avoid leaks and unexpected costs like this.  Cities across North America are hiring PICA on yearly inspection programs which often cost a fraction of what Milwaukee just paid for emergency pipeline repairs. A typical inspection program would look like this:

1) The City selects pipelines that are due for replacement based on age or other factors, but is not sure if the pipelines "need" to be replaced (note: pipelines that have leaked many times in different locations are not inspected, as they are obviously deteriorated badly. Neither are pipelines that are relatively new ... say less than 25 years old.  Only those lines that there is a possibility that they can be salvaged and their lives extended by spot repairs or lining.

2) The City prepares a RFQ and approaches PICA for pricing

3) PICA reviews the as-built drawings and visits the site to develop a proposal and discover any roadblocks.

4) The City accepts PICA's proposal and schedules the work

5) Any civil works to allow access to the pipelines are put into place before PICA mobilizes

6) PICA mibilizes and inspects the pipelines using its patented See Snake Tools.

7) PICA presents the report to the City and recommends the next course of action.

For more info as to how PICA can help your city to avoid costly, unexpected failures from aging water or waste water pipelines, contact