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More leaks in water system

Three new water main breaks in south Charlotte Wednesday had utility officials searching for answers and local leaders wondering if a bigger problem is hiding under city streets.

A comparison conducted by the Observer indicates there may be reason for concern: Charlotte-Mecklenburg's water system gets about seven times as many water main breaks per mile as other similar-sized systems, according to figures provided by city water departments.

The latest breaks occurred at the 1700 block of Dilworth Road, the 1900 block of South Boulevard and at SouthPark mall on Sharon Road. That brings the one-week total to seven water main breaks in south Charlotte alone, an unusual string of high-profile problems.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utility spokesman Vic Simpson said it appeared the breaks could be connected to the failure of a 54-inch water main off Providence Road last weekend. The large pipe, installed in 1986 and 1987, serves most of southern and eastern Charlotte.

Officials shut it down for repair, which could have put more pressure on the system and triggered the latest problems.

“It does have our attention and we are going to be looking for a correlation,” Simpson said.

Meanwhile, some elected officials are questioning the condition of Mecklenburg County's water system.

In the past 12 months, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities, which has 3,850 miles of pipe, has responded to 3,133 water main breaks. These numbers include only the bigger pipes, not smaller server lines.

That comes to an average of about 7.37 breaks per 100 miles of pipe every month. In comparison, Raleigh has 1.2 breaks per 100 miles of pipe. Atlanta has 1.0 and Denver has 0.99.

Simpson said it is hard to compare different systems. He said part of Charlotte's system is old, but age is not the only factor in breaks.

“I don't have an explanation as to why our numbers are bigger than some others,” he said. “I don't think our system is any older or in any worse shape than other systems. I don't believe our infrastructure is falling apart.”

Charlotte City Council member Nancy Carter has said she thinks the current rash of leaks hints to a larger problem with the city's infrastructure.

“Charlotte is a city that has been growing fast for a long, long time and what we are seeing now is a strain on our aging infrastructure,” Carter said Tuesday. “I definitely think these leaks are a sign of things to come.”

On Wednesday several other local leaders shared Carter's concern.

“This is an issue that people have been talking about across the state for some time,” said Jennifer Roberts, Mecklenburg County commissioners chairman. “Things are getting old and they are being stressed by growth. I definitely think this is something we better start examining.”

City Council member Andy Dulin, whose district is home to three of the latest breaks, said the answer to the problem may require money.

“When our system breaks down, it concerns me greatly,” he said. “We may have to look at increasing their budget somehow.”

The utility department's five-year capital improvement plan calls for $1 billion in construction and repairs. Historically the city has been able to fund only about a third of its infrastructure requests.

Earlier this month Carter drove to Raleigh to lobby for help on infrastructure funding. She said without it, Charlotte would likely see more problems with its roads and with its water system.

The break in the 1900 block of South Boulevard occurred around noon. The lunch crowd at La Paz was the first to notice the water bubbling up in the street. Workers closed a lane of traffic and began repairs to a leak that damaged some 60 feet of roadway. Water was turned off to 10 commercial customers. Official were not sure Wednesday how long it would take to fix the problem.

Later in the day a water main broke on Sharon Road, at the entrance of SouthPark mall. One lane was closed, but water service to the area was not interrupted.

Last week an 8-inch water pipe sprang a leak near the intersection of Selwyn Road and Park Road, which caused the shutdown of four lanes of traffic. Later that week, a leaky pipe off South Boulevard, between Clanton Road and New Bern Road, left some businesses and a small condominium complex without water for a night.

Simpson said utility officials were still unable to predict how long it would take to fix the 54-inch line off Providence. Workers spent Tuesday digging down to the line, which runs about 20 feet below the surface where Briar Creek runs under Providence. They installed an access point, which allowed a worker to crawl into the pipe and search for the damage.

Simpson said officials hope the problem can be fixed from inside the pipe, which was designed to last 50 to 100 years. If so, he said they could be finished this weekend.

If that doesn't work, they'll have to excavate and replace part of the pipe, which could mean detours and lane closures. That could take weeks.

“We are still assessing the problem and how to repair it,” Simpson said. “We are not at figuring out the cause yet. And honestly, we may never know for sure what caused it.”

Three new water main breaks in south Charlotte Wednesday had utility officials searching for answers and local leaders wondering if a bigger problem is hiding under city streets.

A comparison conducted by the Observer indicates there may be reason for concern: Charlotte-Mecklenburg's water system gets about seven times as many water main breaks per mile as other similar-sized systems, according to figures provided by city water departments.

The latest breaks occurred at the 1700 block of Dilworth Road, the 1900 block of South Boulevard and at SouthPark mall on Sharon Road. That brings the one-week total to seven water main breaks in south Charlotte alone, an unusual string of high-profile problems.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utility spokesman Vic Simpson said it appeared the breaks could be connected to the failure of a 54-inch water main off Providence Road last weekend. The large pipe, installed in 1986 and 1987, serves most of southern and eastern Charlotte.

Officials shut it down for repair, which could have put more pressure on the system and triggered the latest problems.

“It does have our attention and we are going to be looking for a correlation,” Simpson said.

Meanwhile, some elected officials are questioning the condition of Mecklenburg County's water system.

In the past 12 months, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities, which has 3,850 miles of pipe, has responded to 3,133 water main breaks. These numbers include only the bigger pipes, not smaller server lines.

That comes to an average of about 7.37 breaks per 100 miles of pipe every month. In comparison, Raleigh has 1.2 breaks per 100 miles of pipe. Atlanta has 1.0 and Denver has 0.99.

Simpson said it is hard to compare different systems. He said part of Charlotte's system is old, but age is not the only factor in breaks.

“I don't have an explanation as to why our numbers are bigger than some others,” he said. “I don't think our system is any older or in any worse shape than other systems. I don't believe our infrastructure is falling apart.”

Charlotte City Council member Nancy Carter has said she thinks the current rash of leaks hints to a larger problem with the city's infrastructure.

“Charlotte is a city that has been growing fast for a long, long time and what we are seeing now is a strain on our aging infrastructure,” Carter said Tuesday. “I definitely think these leaks are a sign of things to come.”

On Wednesday several other local leaders shared Carter's concern.

“This is an issue that people have been talking about across the state for some time,” said Jennifer Roberts, Mecklenburg County commissioners chairman. “Things are getting old and they are being stressed by growth. I definitely think this is something we better start examining.”

City Council member Andy Dulin, whose district is home to three of the latest breaks, said the answer to the problem may require money.

“When our system breaks down, it concerns me greatly,” he said. “We may have to look at increasing their budget somehow.”

The utility department's five-year capital improvement plan calls for $1 billion in construction and repairs. Historically the city has been able to fund only about a third of its infrastructure requests.

Earlier this month Carter drove to Raleigh to lobby for help on infrastructure funding. She said without it, Charlotte would likely see more problems with its roads and with its water system.

The break in the 1900 block of South Boulevard occurred around noon. The lunch crowd at La Paz was the first to notice the water bubbling up in the street. Workers closed a lane of traffic and began repairs to a leak that damaged some 60 feet of roadway. Water was turned off to 10 commercial customers. Official were not sure Wednesday how long it would take to fix the problem.

Later in the day a water main broke on Sharon Road, at the entrance of SouthPark mall. One lane was closed, but water service to the area was not interrupted.

Last week an 8-inch water pipe sprang a leak near the intersection of Selwyn Road and Park Road, which caused the shutdown of four lanes of traffic. Later that week, a leaky pipe off South Boulevard, between Clanton Road and New Bern Road, left some businesses and a small condominium complex without water for a night.

Simpson said utility officials were still unable to predict how long it would take to fix the 54-inch line off Providence. Workers spent Tuesday digging down to the line, which runs about 20 feet below the surface where Briar Creek runs under Providence. They installed an access point, which allowed a worker to crawl into the pipe and search for the damage.

Simpson said officials hope the problem can be fixed from inside the pipe, which was designed to last 50 to 100 years. If so, he said they could be finished this weekend.

If that doesn't work, they'll have to excavate and replace part of the pipe, which could mean detours and lane closures. That could take weeks.

“We are still assessing the problem and how to repair it,” Simpson said. “We are not at figuring out the cause yet. And honestly, we may never know for sure what caused it.”

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