What the Hell Is Up With All These Water Main Breaks in Philadelphia?

This has got to be payback for throwing snowballs at Santa Claus.

Photo | Shutterstock.com

Photo | Shutterstock.com

Just in time for Christmas, Philadelphia has suffered yet another water main break, this one causing major flooding and school closures. It seems like every time we turn around, there’s another water main break in Philadelphia. Surely Philadelphia must be unusual in this respect, right? Nope.


I asked Philadelphia Water Department spokesperson Joanne Dahme to provide some statistics and background on Philadelphia water main breaks. Here's what she had to say:

Over the past 28 years, Philadelphia has experienced between 439 to 1,316 water main breaks annually with an average of 750 breaks per year. This translates to roughly 240 breaks per 1,000 miles of water main pipe in the city. The national average from the American Water Works Association is 270 water main breaks per 1,000 miles of pipe.

Here are the total Philadelphia water main breaks based on fiscal year:

2014- 225
2013- 823
2012- 563
2011- 962
2010- 664
2009- 807
2008- 679

Average for past 10 FY's is 753, for past 20 FY's is 771, for past 49 FY's is 823.

In general, PWD's water and wastewater infrastructure is considered to be in good repair and we strive to keep it so and to meet our customers' expectations. This means maintaining a network of more than 6,000 miles of water, sewer, and stormsewer pipes, six treatment facilities, and 34 pump stations.

Some quick facts about the scope of managing our system:

* The national average replacement rate for water mains is 0.5%, or a 200 year life cycle.

* PWD targets replacement of 22 miles of water main per year or 0.8% of our water distribution system annually - which translates to an average 125 year life cycle for our water mains.

* PWD has committed $204 million to improving our water conveyance system over the next 6 years (FY14-FY19).

* PWD spent a half a billion dollars to replace 18% of the water conveyance system over the last 32 years.

* At today's dollars, a half billion dollars will only allow for replacement of 10% of the water conveyance system.

* Replacement of 10% of the sewer system will take $500 million dollars over 12 years at the current targeted replacement rate.

We are using best practices in replacing pipes and holding the factor of age at bay, but as our infrastructure grows older, there will be increasing demand for more dollars for both emergency repairs and capital renewal and replacement.

There is a national epidemic of water main breaks - every 2 minutes - 700 per day.

Feel better now?

  • enufalready

    Its simple…….Neither City, its leaders, Council, Unions, etc. show any foresight into the upkeep of the infrastructure, they just want the money. In buying a house, business, you know there is upkeep, e.g., monthly bills, cleaning, upkeep, paint, caulking, lawncare, roof will need to be sealed every few years and at a point replaced so YOU BUDGET, putting the money aside bit by bit in anticipation of when it will be needed. But not the government, not the city, not SEPTA. Seriously?! its intelligence, common sense, business sense.

  • Joe Burkle

    What’s up? AVERAGE age of pipes is 70 or so years…