The winter is only partly to blame for water main breaks

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) -- The winter creates an uptick for Madison’s water main breaks, but there is more than frost to blame.

Crew members repair a water main break on Madison's west side.

Amy Barrilleaux, a spokesperson for Madison Water Utility, said the public water system has seen 183 water main breaks so far in 2019. She added that about 2/3 of the total occurred between January 1 and March 15, around the time of the polar vortex.

Since last winter, the city spent $6.9 million to replace old water mains, according to Barrilleaux.

She explained, “When it gets really cold, frost starts moving into the ground. That creates a shift in soil under the ground, and it can put pressure on our water mains. The older mains in our system—we have about 900 miles of main—can leak or break when that pressure happens."

Barrilleaux said about 300 miles of main are made from spun cast iron. The material is less expensive and can be brittle.

“If you live in a neighborhood, like I do,” Barrilleaux said, “And your house is from the middle part of the 20th century, chances are that your main could be one of those spun cast iron mains.”

Other mains dating back to the 1880s, when Madison Water Utility was founded, are made from sand cast iron, which Barrilleaux said, are known to be strong.