Old Pipes, Harsh Winter Mean Water Line Breaks

Feb 10, 2014

A city crew prepares to start fixing a broken water line in front of Kendall-Whittier Elementary Monday afternoon. The six-inch line is one of 89 to break in the last four days.
Credit Matt Trotter / KWGS

A cold, dry winter has meant more water line breaks than usual in Tulsa, but outdated pipes are partly to blame.

Tulsa has about 2,300 miles of pipes in its water distribution system, and about 1,000 miles of those pipes are made of cast iron. Water and Sewer Director Clayton Edwards said that's part of the problem.

"The pipes that we're replacing, most of them are cast iron pipes. We haven't put cast iron pipes in the ground for probably over 30 years," Edwards said. "Ever since I've been here, we've put in duct iron pipe and a lot of PVC pipe."

The city is spending $60 million to replace old pipes over the next five years. For now, Tulsa is on track to spend the $9 million budgeted for water line breaks.

Tulsa has had 89 water line breaks in the last four days, and crews are still working to repair 22 of them.

A typical break to a six-inch water pipe takes five to six hours to repair, and Water Distribution Manager Rick Caruthers said that's added up quickly for workers.

"Our crews have been working ... probably 70, 80 hours a week the last couple weeks. We've got to commend our employees, they're doing an excellent job," Caruthers said. "I ask everybody, if you're going through the area where we have a water line break, please move through the area as slowly as possible."

So far there have been 114 water line breaks this month. The most was more than 300 in August 2011.