In the twin cities of Bangor and Brewer, deep levels of frost and fluctuating temperatures have caused an unusually high number of water main breaks this winter, water department officials from both communities said Thursday.
A water main break on North Main Street in Brewer earlier this week was the 10th leak the city has had to deal with so far this year. Bangor experienced four water leaks Wednesday night alone, adding to the dozen Bangor Water District crews already have fixed this year.
“Since January 1, we’ve had 16,” said Kathy Moriarty, Bangor Water District general manager. “We have … experienced more leaks this year than in years past.”
There is about 4½ feet of frost in the ground, and it is creating ground movement and putting a lot of pressure on the pipes, according to Mike Riley, Brewer Water Department superintendent.
“I’ve been doing this for about 25 years, and I’ve only seen it deep as that a handful of years,” he said. “It’s not only the frost, it’s the change in temperatures. It’s that up and down that I think aggravates the problems.”
The frigid January temperatures combined with the recent thaws, melting and refreezing caused the breaks, he said.
“With January being as cold as it was, it drove it [the frost] deeper,” Riley said.
Brewer only experienced half a dozen breaks last year, he said.
Brewer’s leak this week, which occurred near a culvert that allowed thousands of gallons of water to escape into the Penobscot River, took hours to track down, Riley said. Brewer employees noticed a problem around 9:15 p.m. Monday when the water level at the Whiting Hill water tank began dropping fast, but the leak wasn’t found until Tuesday morning at the mouth of the Indian Trail Park on North Main Street.
“It was the most challenging” leak to chase down, he said. “We estimate [a loss of] between 600,000 and 700,000 gallons. It was very scary for a few moments there.”
In fact, the city almost had to call on Bangor to provide backup water, he said.
“We were about 15 minutes away from contacting Bangor to activate the bridge crossing,” Riley said. “You only have so much time to find it before you run out of water.”
The Wednesday night water leaks in Bangor occurred on Pine and Garland streets, and Bellvue and Mount Hope avenues. A water leak last week sent students at Fruit Street School home early, and another in early February shut off water to John Bapst Memorial High School and other customers on Broadway.
Pipes are typically buried about 6 feet deep in this area to prevent frost heaves from affecting them, but obviously they can still be damaged.
“In this area, we like to keep it 5½ to 6 feet [of soil] on the top of the pipe so you don’t have these types of problems,” Riley said. “Six feet is a good number to use.”
Moriarty said, “All our pipes are well below the frost line” adding that, “typically, most of the leaks occur in the winter months. Most leaks we had last year occurred in the months of February and March.”
Both thanked residents in their communities for their patience when crews are fixing the broken lines.