ALPENA - The cold weather already has taken its toll on the water system in Alpena. At this point last year there weren't any water main breaks in the city, but this winter there have been six, and if the current cycle of cold weather continues, there could be more. The possibility of pipe breaks also could occur as spring approaches, as the ground begins to thaw and the earth surrounding the pipes settles.
United Water Operations Manager Mike Glowinski said it appears there were more breaks in 2013, but once he reviewed his records he discovered the opposite. He said he believes there have been more breaks this year so far because the extremely cold weather affected the area earlier than in years past.
"We usually start to see the majority of the breaks in January and February, which are typically the coldest months, but this year the cold set in early and as a result we began to get breaks earlier than last year," Glowinski said. "It is really relative to when we get the cold weather and how long it lasts, so it is too early to tell if we will have more breaks or fewer this year until winter is over."
Monday there was a serious break near 11th Avenue and Sable Street. City Engineer Rich Sullenger said a 10 inch main ruptured and spilled water into the road in temperatures below zero. He said some residents were without water for a spell, as public works employees feverishly worked to fix the pipe.
Sullenger said he hopes he doesn't jinx the city, but he thinks the fact there is a lot of snow on the ground could protect the pipes from freezing. He said as the weather begins to warm in a few months, there could be another increase in pipes that succumb to the pressure put on them.
"Once the ground is shifting and moving from freezing and thawing and causes stress on the pipe and we haven't really seen that yet, but we will eventually," Sullenger said. "It is supposed to warm up this weekend and we may see some break activity. I hope not, but it is a possibility."
Sullenger said the trouble spots, such as 11th near Lockwood and Sable streets, develop because of the type of pipe in the ground and its age. He said in areas old pipes are more susceptible to breaks than the newer ones.
"The older cast iron pipes tend to get brittle and break from the stress, but the ductile iron we use now is more forgiving," Sullenger said. "There are a lot of factors that go into when and why a pipe breaks. There could be one rock that is rubbing against a pipe and it weakens over time. Until we get around to replacing the old pipe we are going to continue to have these issues."
The city does the best it can to locate a break quickly and to make the necessary repairs, but Sullenger said residents need to be alert as well and pass along information as soon as possible.
"If you see a water main break call United Water, or if it is after hours there will be a number on the answering machine you can call to get a hold of someone directly," Sullenger said. "You should be able to do that, but if not then call 911 as a last resort. When you have water spilling all over the street in cold temperatures it can create a freezing hazard for drivers and pedestrians. We are always on the lookout for breaks, but we need the people to help be our eyes too."
Steve Schulwitz can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5689. Follow Steve on Twitter ss_alpenanews. Read his blog, Upon Further Review ... at www.thealpenanews.com.