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Water Main and Service Line Break

What are water mainlines and service lines?

Water mainlines are underground pipes that carry drinking water to from treatment plants throughout the the District's service area.  Service lines are the pipes that branch off from the mainlines to supply water to homes and businesses.  Water mainlines are constructed in a variety of sizes depending on their place and function within the distribution system and are made from different types of materials based on their age.  Service line size can also vary depending on the service needs of the customer's property.

Water mainline and service line breaks

With a significant portion of the District's distribution pipes in the ground aged approximatley 30 years or older, breaks in the pipes are both unavoidable and unpredictable.  Each break brings its own set of challenges.  Small breaks or breaks off of service lines are typically easier to fix, but can be harder to locate or pinpoint. Large breaks can wreak havoc on traffic and sometimes cause damaging floods and water shortages.

What causes breaks?

In addition to age, other factors in water line breaks include:

  • Installation configuration;
  • Previous repairs;
  • Variations in water pressure;
  • Corrosion;
  • Seasonal temperature changes/soil moisture content;
  • Pipe composition; and
  • Stress from the roots of trees in close proximity.

How does the District know when a pipe breaks?

The District regularly moniters tank levels at various locations throughout the system.  A sudden drop in storage level can indicate a problem.  However, often times, District operations staff learns about a break when a resident notifies District customer service to report water running in an unusual location. The District has an operator on-call 24/7 to recieve notificaitons and responsed.  

If crews find no obvious source for the running water, they run tests to help determine whether it’s drinking or groundwater.  If it is drinking water, but no break is visible, the crew uses leak-detection equipment to locate the source of the leak.

How do we fix a leak?

Once a crew member finds a leak that requires immediate attention, they may close the valves on the section of pipe to stop the flow of water or close the valves enough to reduce the flow of the leak but keep enough water in the pipes to ensure customers remain in service.  This might cause a temporary service disruption to some properties.  After isolating the broken section, the crew repairs or replaces it depending on the type and severity of the break.

Repairs that do not require immediate attention are made in order of priority,  Prioritization is very important, because the District has such a vast and complex service area and limited construction staff. Routine leak repairs are normally completed within two weeks.  However, repairs on major water transmission mains may require complex repairs that take longer to engineer and complete.

Often times small leaks persist.  This can happen when another more urgent project takes precedence.  The District understands that every leak needs to be addressed.  The only way we can do it is by prioritizing some leaks over others.  Small leaks may take longer to get to, but please rest assured we will get them fixed when we can allocate our limited resources to the task.

Reporting a problem

Call the 24-hour customer service line at 530-333-4356 right away.  Once the District has been notified, an experienced technician is dispatched to investigate and assess the problem.  When an emergency line break occurs, the water is turned off to the immediate area and repairs begin.  Though crews work quickly, work can take eight hours or more.

The emergency has been reported. Now what?

When we receive a call about a leak or break, several steps are taken.

  1. Information Stage: District representative  will ask the caller questions to collect information about the location and severity of the situation so District operators can respond effectively.
  2. Evaluation Stage:  When staff arrives on-site, they’ll determine if it’s necessary to shut down the water main. In many cases, the main break itself may interrupt water service or reduce water pressure for customers.
  3. Notification Stage:  The District affected residents as soon as possible if there is a disruption of service. However, in some emergency situations where there are unsafe conditions or property damage, there may be little or no opportunity to provide advance notice to customers. Sometimes the presence of a crew in the area and low, or changing, water pressure are the only notices provided.

Repairing the main or service line

When a water main or service line break is confirmed, a crew will set up a work zone and detour traffic.  The crew will also turn off the main (immediately, if needed) and contact USA North to mark the various utilities near the break as required by law. 

After the utilities have been marked, the crew will excavate and secure a trench and begin repairs.  Crews work continuously to repair breaks and restore water service; however, unforeseen challenges can arise causing the process to take longer, including:

  • Older malfunctioning valves;
  • Delays marking utilities or mismarked utilities;
  • Working around other utilities;
  • Weather conditions;
  • Equipment problems; and
  • Safety of repair crews.

Notifying residents

Sometimes customers will be notified directly door to door or via door hangers. Other times we’ll use a phone call-out/text and email service, and/or the District website to provide notification about an emergency. In the case of a serious, widespread situation, the local media may be notified. Residents may be asked to conserve water during the emergency to ensure adequate supply to the service area. It’s always a good idea to have a few gallons of water stored away in case of emergency.

To update your contact information through the WaterSmart system select the following link

When water service is restored

In most cases, when the water pressure returns, you’ll need to run an outside tap for a few minutes to clear the pipes. Use of indoor water may draw discolored water into your hot water heater, prolonging a potential disruption. If after five minutes you still notice discoloration or a strange odor, call the 24-hour line at (530) 333.-4356. An operator can be dispatched to flush the system through fire hydrants and/or at your meter location.

In the rare instance that additional actions are needed, residents will be informed directly through one of the communication channels mentioned above.