Press Release
PWSA Responds to Water Main Breaks in Freezing Temperatures

Pittsburgh, PA – Due to recent weather, the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) has faced a large number of main breaks in neighborhoods throughout the city. We recognize that breaks can leave residents without water service and cause traffic problems. In response, PWSA’s skilled crews are working around the clock to repair these breaks as soon as possible.

Water main breaks are more likely to occur when there is a large change in temperature. Freezing and thawing soil creates movement in the ground which can bend or shift pipes. When the soil shrinks or swells, it places excess tension on water pipes that can make them snap. Cold temperatures also increase the pressure inside the pipe. When the pressure gets too high for the pipe to contain, it ruptures.

PWSA maintains nearly one thousand miles of water distribution mains, some of which are over 90 years old. In January 2016, PWSA made 70 separate water main repairs. In extreme circumstances, when the demand to repair broken pipes exceeds our full-time and contractor capacity, PWSA prioritizes work by taking into account the following factors:

  • public safety,
  • water service disruption,
  •  traffic impact, and
  •  water loss.

PWSA works in collaboration with the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Works to apply salt when main breaks pool water on freezing roadways. The length of time to make the repair depends on several factors. Before any repairs are made underground, PWSA must call 8-1-1 (PA-One Call) to have the pavement marked to ensure repair crews do not strike gas, electric or other utility lines. PWSA must then locate the water main break by excavating the site. Crews work as quickly as possible, and most repairs take about four to eight hours to complete. After the break is repaired, the road is temporarily restored using what is called a “utility cut”. PWSA cannot provide permanent pavement restorations until temperatures are warmer in the spring. For more information on this process please see PWSA’s FAQ on “Street Restoration”.

Customers impacted by a water main break may experience air in their pipes and the water may temporarily appear discolored. Discoloration can occur when pipes and valves are disrupted during repairs. Customers are advised to flush their water taps for a few minutes to clear discolored water from their lines. If issues persist, customers should call PWSA.

The Authority informs impacted customers via robocalls to let them know what is happening and how long repair work is expected to last. To receive these calls, make sure your contact information is updated on your PWSA account by going to and clicking “Update Contact Info”. During main breaks, PWSA also posts updates on Twitter (@pgh2o) and our webpage ( Customers can also call our Emergency Dispatch, which is available 24/7, at 412-255-2423.


For more information, please see PWSA’s FAQ on “Winter Water Main Breaks” at




About us

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA) is the largest combined water and sewer authority in Pennsylvania, serving 300,000 consumers throughout the City of Pittsburgh and surrounding areas. Our 250 employees are city residents and are committed to enhancing Pittsburgh’s quality of life by delivering high quality water. 

  • Published
  • Wednesday, December 21, 2016

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