What To Do When The Water Main Breaks

Feb 6, 2014

Credit Editor B via flickr

It’s no secret that Baltimore has seen an unprecedented increase in water main breaks during the recent cold snaps. 

According to the Department of Public works, the city experienced 353 breaks in its aging system of water mains in January alone. That puts Baltimore on pace for more than four times as many breaks as all of last year. In fact, department spokesman Kurt Kocher said this has been the worst winter for water main breaks in at least the last 14. In addition, the department received 13,000 service calls last month for frozen water meters, frozen water lines, frozen storm drains and so forth.

Here’s an admittedly blurry picture I took in January after a water main break on North Ave:

Casualty of a January water main break on W. North Ave.
Credit Jason Van Slyke / WYPR

The volume of water combined with cold temperatures froze the car in place.

While the city’s workers are scrambling to fix water main breaks in the unforgiving cold, many residents fear the next break.  Here’s public works’ list of frequently asked questions for Baltimore water service. And here are some signs--besides low pressure and flooding in the street-- a water main may have broken in your neighborhood:

·         Leaking fire hydrants

·         Water seepage around fire hydrants/pavement

·         Water bubbling up around fire hydrants

·         Standing water

For more information about signs of potential water main breaks and what causes them, click here to read a guide from the Public Utility Authority in Cape Fear, North Carolina (opens in PDF).  But public works spokesman Kocher says those signs do not always signify a break. “You can never tell what is a water main break until you dig,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Though signs of a water main break seem obvious, they usually go unnoticed until it is too late. Here are some tips to follow if a water main has broken in your neighborhood and you are without water:

·         Contact Baltimore’s Department of Public Works by dialing 311. They can also be contacted online, or at (410) 396-5352.

·         Purchase bottled water for drinking and cleaning.

·         Refrain from using your bathroom.

When the main is repaired, water may not immediately return to your home. With your faucets open you may hear gurgling noises from the sink. This is the water travelling through the pipes in your home. Once water returns to your household, let it run for a couple minutes. After a couple minutes, the water will be safe to drink/bathe with.

For more information on water main procedures, visit Baltimore City’s Department of Public Works website.