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DIGGING DEEPER: The cost of water main breaks in Madison

MADISON (WKOW) — As cold weather continues, you can expect to see more water main breaks throughout Madison.

Lanes of Whitney Way were closed down overnight and into Tuesday afternoon as crews worked to fix up a main that broke because it couldn’t hold up to pressure after decades of use in a busy area.

“A lot of stress on those mains leading away from the well,” said Madison Water Utility spokesperson Amy Barrilleaux. “Basically, it just couldn’t stand the force anymore and it ended up breaking.”

It is one of 182 main breaks this year. The city spent $1,124,620 on 225 main breaks in 2018. That was up significantly over the previous two years. During a polar vortex in 2014, main breaks cost the utility $1,799,626.

“In order to live our lives, we have to be able to kind of keep up with that main replacement,” Barrilleaux told 27 News. “We don’t want it to be 300 main breaks a year or 400 or 500. There’s going to get to a point, if we don’t replace water mains, we can’t keep up anymore with the breaks.”

Barrilleaux said Madison Water Utility has been working for more than 10 years to replace aging mains, spending nearly $8 million just this year.

The utility plans to replace 400 miles of mains over 30 years. It’s already cost more than $100 million to fix up about 100 miles or pipes.

“We’ve been a utility since 1882. So maintaining and replacing all of that, it is expensive and it does impact water rates,” she said.

In July, the utility asked the Public Service Commission (PSC) for permission to raise rates by $2.20 a month, to foot some of the bills. That comes after a hike of about $7, approved in late 2018. Right now, the average monthly water bill is about $28.

About one-third of a user’s Madison Water Utility bill goes towards repairs of aging mains, pumps and hydrants throughout town. These rate increases would only impact the water portion of the bill, excluding rates for sewer and other charges.

The PSC is still reviewing the latest request for a rate increase.

Meanwhile, crews are getting ready for what could be another long winter of repairs.

“[This winter] we had crews going back to back to back to back for a big stretch and during that polar vortex back in 2013-2014, it was non stop,” Barrilleaux said. “You can imagine that can get to be expensive and just a lot in terms of employee wear.” 

Overall, main breaks have stayed relatively steady in the past 15 years, according to Madison Water Utility statistics, except for a significant spike in years of extreme cold.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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