Up and down temperatures leading to increased water main breaks

Large water main break closes Murphy Road at Wellington Street. August 6, 2021. (Photo by Stephanie Chaves, Blackburn News).

The fluctuation in temperatures so far this winter has led to an increased number of water main breaks in the city of Sarnia.

Last month, public works crews repaired 21 breaks, compared to just four in December of 2021.

GM of Engineering and Operations David Jackson said thankfully conditions are improving.

There have been just three breaks so far in January, down from 10 in January 2022.

“Water mains can break at any time of the year. Various things can happen if we’re flushing a hydrant or something and the pressure changes,” said Jackson.

“Most of our breaks happen in the winter time, and that is largely due to the fluctuation in temperature both impacting the metal pipes themselves and the ground conditions. Whether that’s extreme cold for a long time, and then the frost gets down to the level of the pipe and puts pressure on it, or just the fluctuation in temperatures causes expansion and contraction and that cause those vulnerable sections of pipe to break.”

Jackson said the city spends about $6 million annually on water capital.

“It’s mainly our older infrastructure that’s in the worst condition and is the most likely to break,” he said. “That’s in the core area of the city. We’ll see the odd break anywhere in the system but most of it is in the core.”

This year, in addition to repairing the Colborne Road water main, the city hopes to replace aging mains as part of the combined sewer separation project.

Phase two of the Plank Road rehabilitation is also in the works, which includes upgrading the aging water main.