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Water lines prone to breakage under drought

Austin Water Utilities is expecting more pipe breaks from the summer heat.
Photo by Kristen Cabrera for KUT News
Austin Water Utilities is expecting more pipe breaks from the summer heat.

Refael Eizraelov spotted water spilling into the street on Adirondack Lane in North Austin this morning. He called the city's 3-1-1 to report it.  They informed him that Austin Water Utility had known about the leak yesterday.

"We don’t have a lot of water in Austin, at the Edwards Aquifer. Everyone knows it’s very low and very precious, and we cannot let water like that just spilling down the drain,” he said.

Jill Mayfield, Public Affairs coordinator for the Water Utility, said that the current drought has wreaked havoc on water mains. There are so many breaks that their crews get backed up trying to fix them all.

“We had crews spread out all over the city taking care of these and we are now on the scene with this additional leak that continued to leak overnight. But we are taking care of it this morning,” she said.

Mayfield said that constant earth shifting is a problem for the small six-inch diameter service lines that bring water from the main line to a house. As the drought goes on, she says it's a problem we'll likely see more.

“As the ground dries, it moves, essentially,” Mayfield said. “You see, especially in the areas where we have the thick clay-like soil, it cracks and it continues to put additional pressure on pipes--especially the smaller pipes. And they do give way. And that’s fairly typical. And we may see that again, if we get extreme rain events, too. The ground will once again swell and move and crack again. So when we see extremes in the weather, we see more in the way of the small leaks. ”

Austin's Water Utility started to see more pipes breaking around Memorial Day. During the second week of June, 65 water pipes snapped.

But, if you see water gushing from underground onto the street, report it to 3-1-1 or to 512-972-1000. There will be some pipe breaks they don't know about yet.

Kristen Cabrera is a graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine, where she saw snow for the first time and walked a mile through a blizzard. A native of the Rio Grande Valley, she graduated from the University of Texas-Pan American (now UTRGV) and is a former KUT News intern. She has been working as a freelance audio producer, writer and podcaster. Email her:
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