Year’s worth of water main breaks leads to plan for water system upgrades

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Fayette County Water system Director Vanessa Tigert. Photo/Fayette County.
Fayette County Water system Director Vanessa Tigert. Photo/Fayette County.

A number of factors, including age and pipe composition, can cause a water main to break, with 47 breaks occurring last year throughout Fayette County. Beyond addressing breaks as they occur, the Fayette County Water System is developing a plan to help minimize future breaks through efforts such as a pipe replacement plan.

Between Dec. 28, 2018 and Nov. 7, 2019 there were 47 water main breaks in locations around Fayette, with a total of 2,266 residences and 27 businesses affected.

During the period, Fayetteville had 23 water main breaks with 1,304 residences and 21 businesses affected, while in Peachtree City there were 21 breaks with 839 residences and three businesses affected.

Tyrone during the period had two breaks with 43 residences and three businesses affected. And in Brooks, there was one break with 80 residences affected.

Fayette County Water System Director Vanessa Tigert said there are many reasons can cause water distribution lines to break.

“Composition and age are the two main culprits,” said Tigert. “Ductile iron water pipe has a much longer life expectancy than PVC pipes. PVC Class 200 pipe, initially installed in the late 70s and early 80s, is not as strong as the PVC C900 installed in the late 1980s. In 2000, the water system changed the PVC standard to the current standard, ductile iron pipe.”

Tigert said both PVC pipe types were installed according to standards of the time. PVC pipes comprise approximately 40 percent of the water distribution system in Peachtree City and 15 percent each in Fayetteville and unincorporated Fayette County.

“As the distribution system ages, pipes become more susceptible to stress breaks,” Tigert said. “Stress breaks can occur when soil conditions transition from hot to cold when dramatic temperature changes occur. Droughts and heavy rains also can cause soil movement that is enough to allow stress breaks.”

Main breaks can also result from improper installation when soil is not properly compacted around the pipe or when pipe is placed directly on native rock, Tigert noted, adding that humans also damage pipe during subsequent construction activities since PVC is very difficult to locate.

Looking ahead to the future, Tigert said the water system is looking to potentially create a hydraulic model to determine when improvements to the system are needed. The water system is also in the process of completing a study aiming to improve water distribution infrastructure which would include budgeting pipe replacement over a 10-year period.