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"It's a difficult situation to perceive," said Adam Wiederhoeft, a design and construction engineer with Madison Water Utility. "It's buried underground. You can't see it. It's worked for decades. So until you actually see the problem, it's hard to realize that a problem could be there, just kind of ticking and waiting for its opportunity to present itself."
Utility crews repaired 306 water main breaks in 2013, up from 221 in 2012. The vast majority of those breaks came from cast iron pipes, sand and spun, that were laid at the beginning of the city system's history but predominantly during the city's boom after World War II.
At the time, the utility did not take into account the corrosiveness of soils and groundwater on the cast iron pipes. They've become brittle and break easier than the ductile iron pipes, which also have a wrap over them that the city began installing in the 1970s.
"(The cast iron pipes) are everywhere that the city was growing in the post-war period. You look at how the city grew, and it was on fire," said Tom Heikkinen, Madison Water Utility's general manager. "That pipe is everywhere."
It represents 400 miles, or roughly half of the city's 800 miles of water mains. The goal is to replace those 400 miles over the next 40 years, but at a cost of $1 million a mile, consumers can expect to pay more. Heikkinen said it's also not just the mains that need replacing.Monday, February 17 2014, 10:02 PM CST
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