Water Main Breaks

We do our absolute best to maintain our network of approximately 960 miles of water mains. However, when the occasional water main break occurs, our customers can rest assured that we are prepared for a timely fix.

Causes

Although water main breaks are more likely to occur in the winter, they can happen at any point in the year. In the colder months, freezing and thawing soil creates movement in the ground that can bend or shift water mains. Cold temperatures also increase the pressure inside the pipe. In the warmer months, water usage peaks as customers stay hydrated, water their lawns and plants, and possibly fill up a swimming pool. This kind of stress on our system may lead to a water main break because when pressure and volume get too high for a water main to contain, it will rupture. Other contributing factors to water main breaks include:

  • Age: The average age of our water mains is about 80 years old. More than 40 percent of them were installed prior to 1920.
  • Pipe material: The majority of our water mains are made of either iron or steel, both of which can be challenging to repair.
  • Accidents: Our crews, contractors, or other utility workers may accidentally hit a water main during work. 

Associated Water Outages

To fix a water main break, we must temporarily shut off water in the affected area because the flow of pressurized water is too strong for repairs to be made. We will send out robocalls to any impacted customers if there is a water outage to let them know what is happening and how long the work is expected to last. Please make sure to check if your contact information is updated on your account to assure you receive a robocall if you are affected by a water main break.

Repair Timeline

Crews work as quickly as possible, and most repairs take about four to eight hours to complete. PWSA prioritizes work by considering the following factors:

  • Public safety
  • Water service disruption
  • Traffic impact
  • Water loss

Also, before any repairs can be made, we are required to call 8-1-1 (PA-One Call) to have the area marked for underground gas, electric, or other utility lines.

Restoration

After the water main break is repaired, the street and/or sidewalk will be either temporarily or permanently restored depending on the time of year. We cannot provide permanent pavement restorations until temperatures are warmer in the spring through fall.

Water Quality

After repairs, customers may experience discoloration due to increased airflow into their pipes and stirring of sediment. This problem can typically be solved by running your faucet on cold at the lowest point of the house until the water runs clear, which may take 10-15 minutes. If your water doesn't clear the first time, wait a few minutes and repeat this process. If your water still does not clear after taking these steps, please call PWSA Emergency Dispatch 24/7 at 412-255-2423.

Winter Hazards

In the winter, water main breaks can become a dangerous hazard for drivers and pedestrians due to freezing temperatures. We address this by deploying our salt trucks, each equipped with a plow, to areas where a leak presents a danger to our customers. We also coordinate with the City of Pittsburgh’s Department of Public Works to apply salt in certain situations where there are multiple emergencies occurring within the same time frame.