Bloomington utilities hopes to report on water main breaks by late August

On Monday evening, a water main broke at 6th Street and College Avenue, on the northwest side of the courthouse square in downtown Bloomington.

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Looking west down the hill of 6th Street from College Street. July 29, 2019. (Dave Askins/Beacon)

For the month of July, that brought the number of breaks citywide  to an even dozen, matching the total for June.

The City of Bloomington’s Utility Department hopes to have a report on water main breaks ready for presentation to the city council by Aug. 21, according to public affairs specialist Holly McLauchlin.

Added to the 44 breaks through June, the 12 in July make 56 water main breaks so far in 2019, with five months left on the calendar. That means through July, Bloomington has seen at least 20 more breaks, in the same seven-month period, than for any of the previous six years.

The seven-month total this year is already greater than the whole-year totals in three out of those six years.

Water Main Breaks Annotated Bloomington 2013 to June 2019 first sevenThe back-to-back double-digit break numbers for June and July this year aren’t unprecedented. In 2016, when 88 water mains broke, the monthly totals for August through November were: 12, 12, 10, and 13.

Is there a common cause for the recent breaks? Responding to an emailed query from The Beacon, McLauchlin said there was not currently a theory: “We are digging deep into the data and will have a report for the City Council hopefully by Aug. 21.”

Earlier this year, the city posted an initial set of water main breaks to Bloomington’s B-Clear data portal.

Causes given for specific breaks in the initial data set included: ground movement, defect in the pipe, improper bedding, a contractor, temperature changes, and water hammer, among others.

R Map Main BreakJuly 2019 Water Main Breaksxxxx

When The Beacon interviewed director of utilities Vic Kelson in April, he said some of the newer pipe, made of ductile iron, was not lasting as long as expected. Older pipe in the system is made of cast iron.

Kelson said that it’s possible that the somewhat sooner-than-expected failure of ductile iron pipes is linked to a manufacturing issue that’s broader than just the pipe that’s been installed in Bloomington.

Five of the 12 water main breaks in July were to ductile iron pipes with dates from 1978 to 1999, based on information from the utilities department. The oldest pipe of the July breaks was the cast-iron pipe at 6th and College: 1890.