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Rare 100-year-old wooden water pipe unearthed in Maryland suburbs

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission began removing century old, wooden water pipes from under the town of Mt. Rainier, Md. on Wednesday. The pipes have gone unused for 75 years. (Video: WUSA9)
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Utility crews digging in the Maryland suburbs to install a new water pipe this week made a rare find: a wooden water pipe that dates back to World War I.

Yes, it’s made of wood.

The six-inch pipe, buried around 1915, hasn’t carried water since 1940, when it was replaced with a cast iron pipe. A contractor for the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) unearthed it Wednesday and Thursday while digging a trench to install a new ductile iron pipe beneath 34th Street near Bunker Hill Road in Mount Rainier, just outside the Washington, D.C., line.

Long-abandoned wooden pipes left beneath older communities aren’t unheard of, but century-old utility plans typically don’t pinpoint their location and rarely is one ever dug up, utility officials said. Even some veteran WSSC pipe experts had never laid eyes on one. Water utility and infrastructure nerds rejoiced.

“This is very, very cool,” said Lyn Riggins, a WSSC spokeswoman. “You just don’t see this very often.”

Riggins noted that the pipe, which is made out of of slats of wood, is wrapped in reinforcing steel wire, similar to today’s largest concrete water mains — the kind that explode into spectacular geysers when the steel wire begins to break.

After the ductile iron pipe is installed, the utility will abandon the World War II-era cast iron main, which had been breaking repeatedly from old age, Riggins said. That cast iron pipe also will remain behind after it’s replaced, lying beneath the soil for someone else to discover in the future.

“Maybe someone in 100 years will find it and think that’s really cool,” Riggins said.