Fire Hydrants Across The City Are Spewing 15 Million Gallons Of Water, But It's Not A Loose Valve

Sep 26, 2017

In seven locations throughout the city, fire hydrants are continually spewing water --- more than 15 million gallons of water.

But it’s no accident.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has been flushing water for weeks. Since the closure of the Lanpher Reservoir last month, which followed a flush and boil advisory for residents in the city’s North Side neighborhoods, Millvale and Reserve Township, water has to be redirected throughout the system, said PWSA interim executive director Bob Weimar.

The locations of hydrants being used to flush water by PWSA.

“It's no different than rerouting cars on a highway when you're doing a bridge job,” Weimar said. “We have to reroute the water.”

That rerouting can mean that water is traveling through pipes that are used less often. In those cases, water sits for longer periods of time and chemicals, such as manganese, can build up. In order to maintain water quality, Weimar said the water is flushed out.

“It’s almost like dust accumulating on your shelf,” he said. “So, the issue is we use flushing as a way to dust this material out of the water pipes.”

It’s actually something PWSA does annually, Weimar said, usually in the spring or summer, and is required by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental protection.

However, the closure of the Lanpher Reservoir means PWSA will continue to do additional flushing, likely through next month, when initial repairs to the reservoir are expected to be completed. Half of the reservoir will go back into use, the other half will need more robust repairs.

Weimar also said redirecting the water has made it more difficult to keep chlorine levels consistent. Currently, the city’s water must have at least .02 milligrams of chlorine per liter of water, as determined by the state DEP. What makes it trickier, though, is that soon that standard will jump to .2 milligrams or chlorine – or 10 times as much – as stipulated by federal regulations. PWSA staff are testing the levels daily, Weimar said, to ensure the water meets the new standard.

But in the meantime, if you see a fire hydrant gushing water, Weimar said not to panic.

“If it became a nuisance for any reason, (residents) should let us know,” he said. “But these operations are normal.” 

*UPDATED: Sept. 27, 2017 at 11:35 p.m. to reflect that 15 million gallons of water have been flushed from fire hydrants.