Water utility crews struggled to keep up with breaking pipes, particularly in the Maryland suburbs, where 38 water mains burst in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties on Tuesday. Eight of those 38 breaks were reported during a 90-minute period mid-day, officials said.
The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC), which provides water to Montgomery and Prince George’s, said repairs were taking longer than the typical four to six hours because crews had to be rotated in and out of the severe cold. And the 38 pipe breaks undergoing repairs Tuesday compared to an average eight breaks for a typical January day, said spokeswoman Lyn Riggins.
Aging, brittle water pipes break when the temperature of the water pumped into them from local rivers fluctuates, causing their weakened walls to expand or contract. The Potomac River dropped from 37.7 degrees at 8 p.m. Monday to 34.6 degrees by 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Riggins said.
In the District, workers were trying to find the source of a pipe leak at 17th and T streets Southeast, said DC Water spokeswoman Pamela Mooring. However, the utility would only send crews into the cold for repairs in an emergency, she said. A salt truck was also sent to the scene to treat ice forming from the leak, she said.
No pipes had burst Tuesday, Mooring said, but the utility fixed a leaking pipe in Southeast and a broken water main on New York Avenue Northwest on Monday night.
DC Water also has begun receiving calls from residents complaining of low water pressure, Mooring said. Water pressure drops, she said, as a house’s or building’s own pipes begin to freeze. DC Water also has received numerous complaints of pipes freezing and bursting on vacant properties, Mooring said. Information on how to prevent a home’s or other building’s water pipes from freezing is available at www.dcwater.com/freezingpipes.
Between midnight Monday and 1 p.m. Tuesday, DC Water fielded 550 calls from customers reporting freezing pipes or low water pressure likely caused by pipes beginning to freeze up, Mooring said. During the same time, the utility received nine reports of pipes on vacant properties breaking and causing a nuisance or hazard, Mooring said. DC Water crews turned off water to those buildings, she said.
— Katherine Shaver