Crews at the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority are gearing up for a busy week as the deep freeze sets in and is followed by a quick thaw.
“Any extreme change in temperature causes the ground to shift, and when that occurs, the lines break,” said PWSA spokeswoman Melissa Rubin. “We have an old system, we have a lot of pipe that’s 80 years old, a hundred years old. Some of them are old cast iron pipes, and they break when the ground shifts.”
Rubin said they’ve seen fewer water main breaks than expected, but that could all change as temperatures shoot back up to the 40s this weekend.
“We have extra folks working in our emergency dispatch, which is staffed 24/7,” Rubin said. “We added extra crews working in the field, so that they can respond to emergencies. We have extra plumbers on standby. We have an electrician on standby, if there were to be a power outage affecting one of our pump stations. So we’re ready for it, when it comes.”
As of noon on Tuesday, crews had responded to four major water main breaks. Three had already been fixed and one was in the process of being fixed.
Rubin said PWSA is also concerned about the safety of their workers, and much of the staff is being kept indoors. She said non-emergency appointments have been canceled, and that many broken water lines will be repaired after the thaw.
“If it is a line that can be shut without anyone going out of water, that’s what we do,” Rubin said. “We go ahead and shut it to keep ice from forming on the road, and we’ll repair it when the weather thaws. However, if it is an outage that’s causing customers to go out of water, then we have to begin repairs.”
Rubin said they’ve also received some calls for frozen meters, broken service pipes, and frozen pipes inside the home. She said PWSA will replace frozen and broken meters, but that homeowners will be charged. Rubin added that service pipes, which bring water to individual homes, are also the responsibility of the homeowner, “but as a courtesy we will go ahead and shut the water just so it’s not creating ice on the road.”
If your pipes are frozen, said Rubin, you should shut off the main water valve which is usually located in the garage or basement, and call a private plumber. To prevent freezing pipes, homeowners should be sure that warm air reaches any place where pipes are located, which may mean leaving basement and cabinet doors open.
Rubin also wanted to remind residents that PWSA has 113,000 customers to serve, and that crews will work as quickly as they can to restore service after any major water line breaks.
“Unfortunately we can’t control the weather,” Rubin said. “We will get to them as quickly as we can. We will have extra staff here willing and ready to assist them, and we just hope they will be patient with us.”
If you experience any water or sewer-related problems, Rubin said you should immediately call PWSA at (412) 255-2429 or (412) 255-2409.