Crews work to repair water main break

January 23, 2008 4:05:51 PM PST
Work continues to repair the massive water main break that damaged homes and businesses in Chicago's Ravenswood community. A break like the one that occurred early Tuesday morning has happened before in the city, and water department officials say it's bound to happen again.

The reality is some of these aging water pipes make up about 20 percent of the Chicagoland infrastructure. Officials say it will probably take another week until everything is done and back to normal. For now, Brown Line passengers headed westbound have to walk around the block and motorists may be able to get as far west as Winchester coming from the east. So it's still a big inconvenience. And these water projects really are. Whether they are unexpected or whether they're planned.

The action is non-stop. Crews at Montrose and Wolcott dug up the damaged water and sewer lines Wednesday and expect to replace them with new materials in the next 24 hours.

"We got in a majority of the sewer section that was washed out by the water main failure. So we have a majority of that in and that should be completed by today," said Barrett Murphy, Chicago Department of Water.

Early Tuesday morning, a 36-inch water pipe failed. Water rushed to the street and other low lying areas including nearby stores and homes. It is believed the force of the water blew out the mortar of an old brick sewer line and caused the street to collapse.

The water line that failed is much like the rest of the city's aging infrastructure. Barrett Murphy is the water department's managing deputy commissioner.

"There was a big explosion in the city's population between 1880, after the fire, 1880 to 1920. So there was a lot of water mains and sewer mains put in at that time. And this pipe dates from approximately that period. So there's always an issue with places where they reach 100 years. That's generally a rule of thumb about a replacement schedule," said Murphy.

Chicagoans may remember other water line breaks:

  • last year, in the Pullman neighborhood,
  • in 2003, in the 1900-block of North Clark,
  • and in 2002 on Lake Shore Drive.
  • Deputy Commissioner Murphy says the city has to balance replacing the aging lines with the inconvenience to residents.

    "These failures are not very common. But when they happen, of course, they're of a major impact. And that's where we're working very diligently to restore this area as quickly as we can and get people and the street back to where it was so we inconvenience the citizens as little as possible," Murphy said.

    It has still not been determined exactly what caused the water main to break. The broken pipe was transferred, taken to an engineering firm, and it is being inspected to try to figure out what conditions caused the 100-year-old cast iron pipe to finally give way.