Broken Water Mains Plague Some Dallas Neighborhoods

More than a dozen breaks in one year in some areas

Water raining down from the sky, rivers running in the streets, yards and buildings flooded.

It sounds like a wicked Texas thunderstorm, but it's not -- the water is gushing up from the ground.

Broken water mains created some spectacular sights this summer in Dallas. One sent a geyser shooting 60 feet in the air across Stemmons Freeway in June. Another flooded the Dallas County Records Building, causing about $10 million in damage.

And now, records show some neighborhoods have seen a constant stream of broken pipes in the last year, causing frustration and inconvenience.

According to city records, Cindy Stager's neighborhood in Preston Hollow has had 12 water main breaks in a seven-block area in 12 months.

One broke across from Stager's house in June, and that was just the beginning.

"A couple of days later, it broke in front of our house, and they came and fixed it, and a few days later it broke again in a second place," she said.

Ann Weber, who lives nearby, said broken pipes have flooded her yard more than once.

"We walked out and were literally up to our ankles in water," she said.

In one case, crews had to dig a 6-by-6 foot hole in her front yard to get at one of the damaged section, Weber said.

What happens in that small area of Preston Hollow is repeated around the city. City records show that four neighborhoods of about a half-mile square each have seen a dozen water main breaks or more between June 2009 and June 2010.

One area near the Bishop Arts District in the Kidd Springs neighborhood had 13 breaks in a year. Another half-mile square near Stevens Park and one near Marsh Lane and Walnut Hill have also been hit with more than a dozen broken pipes in 12 months. The breaks temporarily knock out water to surrounding homes until city crews repair the leak.

Officials with Dallas Water Utilities said they are well aware of the trouble spots.

"Well, those are in old sections of Dallas that typically have old cast-iron main," said Charles Stringer, the city's assistant director of water operations.

At least 60 percent of the city's water pipes are made up of old cast iron that is now quickly moving past its expected life span.

Some of the nation's top engineers argue that cities such as Dallas are reaching a critical point where aggressive action is needed to replace pipes, or water systems will break more and more often.

"It's crumbling; it's falling apart," said Rachel Hayden with the American Society of Civil Engineers. " I mean, our infrastructure was built 50, 60 years or even longer ago."

Dallas has a comprehensive plan to systematically replace old pipes, and the city spends about $75 million per year on those replacements.

But neighborhoods where rivers have run in the streets and water has shot into the air may see many more broken pipes before their number comes up for a more permanent fix. The pipe replacements only happen on a set schedule. When pipes suddenly break, only the immediate area around the break is replaced.

"You put a Band-Aid on one section just to get it repaired, and next thing you know, another section of it breaks," Hayden said.

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