Here's how the Detroit River plays a role in water main breaks across the city

Posted at 8:01 AM, Jan 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-20 08:01:29-05

(WXYZ) — The City of Detroit says the catalyst for a water main break is the Detroit River — and when the temperature is low, trouble is imminent.

“When the water going into the water treatment plant hits 36 degrees, that’s when we notice a substantial increase in the number of breaks that we have," said Sam Smalley, COO of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department.

Come late December, early January, and as we've seen lately, water main breaks are bound to happen.

Smalley says an aging infrastructure is part of the equation.

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"The average age of our system is 95 years old," he said. He says some pipes date back to 1854.

In February of 2019, the city reported 232 breaks; In February of 2020, 224 breaks.

And when one breaks: "our first responsibility is to provide safe, clean drinking water to our customers. So that’s the first and foremost thing that we’re always concerned about. So if a customer is out of water that becomes a top priority.”

Second, he says inspectors make sure the flow on the street is able to drain away. If not, that rises in priority.

Before any work begins, MISS DIG comes in and marks off any underground utilities.

"The repair crew can show up. They do their excavation safely down to the pipe, installing and shoring. They will either put a clamp on the pipe or cut out a piece of bad pipe and put a new piece in, then backfill, flush, chlorinate, and make sure everything’s safe, and they move on to the net one," said Smalley.