Crews busy in Montgomery as drought leads to busted water mains

Updated: Nov. 3, 2016 at 11:47 PM CDT
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(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - The drought continues to wreak havoc across the State of Alabama.

The latest numbers from the National Drought Monitor show extreme conditions moving deeper south into areas like Montgomery, Prattville, and Clanton.

Dry ground is causing some water mains to shift and break, keeping repair crews busy, especially in Montgomery.

According to Montgomery Water Works officials, the drought, the type of soil in certain parts of the city and the age of the pipes are factors in this ongoing problem.

On Thursday, crews worked quickly in front of James Daniel's Montgomery home on Sommerville Drive to fix a broken water main.

Residents were left without water for a few hours as repairs were made.

"I was at home and went to run my faucet and the water was off so I came out to see what was going on and they were digging it up," Daniel said. "I always knew that when there's a drought, the ground shifts but besides make rain, we can't do anything. We have to go along with what comes."

The same thing has been happening in other neighbors as the drought tightens its grip.

"When the drought started a month and a half ago, the clay soil that we have on the south side of town started drying up. You can see cracks in the road and cracks in your yard. The pipe zone where the pipes are, it's moving one way or the other and sometimes it torques the pipe and it will snap the pipe," explained Buddy Morgan, General Manager of Montgomery Water Works & Sanitary Sewer Board.

Water Works is repairing, on average, a water main break each day in the city. Crews try to respond within 30 minutes when they received a call about a break. Once on scene, they need to locate all of the utility lines before they can start digging and doing the necessary work. It takes about three hours fix the problem and get the water back on.

"Right now, we're trying not to overfill our system; trying to keep it at a good operating pressure," Morgan said. "There are homes with cracks in their walls and cracks in their foundations. The same thing is happening below ground with the pipes."

When it does finally rain, it will cause additional water main breaks.

"Unfortunately, the soil is going to come back the other way and we'll be plagued with some more breaks because when it tries to reset itself, the pipe has already moved. It'll put some more torque on it and we'll break it again," Morgan added.

When time, labor, and materials are factored in, each water main break costs $10,000-15,000.

"That falls on us, the rate payers. And I'm right there with you, I pay water rates also," Morgan said. "We factor that in when we're doing rate establishment. One of the things we are doing, we're looking where we have terrific break patterns and getting things changed out with different types of material. We'll use plastic pipes and other things to make sure that the people who come after us have a better system than what we have."

Montgomery Water Works asks that if residents spot a leak on their street, to report it so that it can be quickly addressed.

With the way the forecast is headed, officials predict Alabama won't see any significant rain until the first of the year. The ground is so dry, that it will take a long time for saturation to occur.

Auburn is now under mandatory water restrictions. There are limits to watering lawns and washing cars is prohibited. Additional fees will be charged to customers using more than 12,000 gallons per cycle.

"We're fast approaching the same drought conditions that we had in 2007. We're fortunate here in that we have two sources of water- the river and 50 deep wells. We're been monitoring those to make sure we don't overtax either one of them," Morgan said.

The Office of Water Resources, which is under the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, was tasked with writing a management plan for the state. A committee was formed with a Drought Response Team as a result of the 2007 drought and its member are meeting regularly in the midst of the current drought.

It led to key partnerships with the Army Corps of Engineers, Alabama Power, the Forestry Commission and other state and federal agencies and utility companies to plan for and respond to droughts.

"We're working to try to figure out when we get into these situations, how do we share water? How do we provide for water needs? One of the things was partnering up with Alabama Power on the re-licensing of Lake Martin to be able to hold more water," Morgan said. "I think we have good plans in place."

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