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About Those Water Main Breaks
In the last three years, there have been six major water main breaks in Verona, three of which in the last year. A line broke on Fairview Avenue between Franklin Street and Kenwood Avenue on July 30, just a little more than a month after a break on Depot Street, prompting a few readers to ask us “what the heck is happening”?
What is happening is that Verona has some old infrastructure and, with age, things break down. But we’re not in as bad a shape as we once were on water lines, and we’re probably not as bad as many other cities in America.
“In the early ’80s, we were having one main break a month,” says Jim Helb, Verona’s town engineer. Things were so bad that residents then brought their dirty laundry to Town Council meetings to air the problem.
But Verona authorized an $8.5 million plan to upgrade our water system, which at that time was largely dependent on water from Essex Fells. The spending has replaced 60% of the valves and hydrants in town, and it continues.
“When we do a street, we replace water lines from the main to the curb,” says Helb. That kind of work was done on the upper portion of Personette this year, as well as on East and West Lincoln streets. “When we do the streets now, we investigate the pipeline, but we don’t need to do a major rehab like we did in the ’80s,” Helb adds.
Verona also sources its water differently now, which makes us far less dependent on the old 12-inch mains that still exist under parts of town, like the one that failed in July. Now our pipes carry both water produced in local wells and water brought in from the Passaic Valley Water Commission. At some times of the year we use more from one source than the other, but the overall balance is about 50-50.
America built its water mains with clay pipes originally and later with galvanized metal. Age, ground settling and street traffic far heavier than a horse and buggy take their toll, and the lines break. ABC’s 7online Web site devotes a whole page to water main breaks around our area, complete with footage of gushing water. A Web site called Water Main Break Clock (set up by the PVC pipe industry) says there have been more than 4 million breaks in North America since 2000, or 850 a day.
Some of Verona’s breaks have been caused by old pipes and some by human error. Raising or lowering water levels too quickly can cause a surge in pressure that strains the pipes. In June 2012, an outside fire company training at Verona’s practice building on Commerce Court turned the water lines there on and off very quickly. That caused a surge on Grove Street that collapsed a section of the road, leaving a Department of Public Works truck with its front wheels under the road. Helb says that any fire company that uses the training building now is instructed in proper use of its hydrants.
Old pipes can also leak water: According to the Water Main Break Clock, 2.6 trillion gallons of drinking water a year. We don’t seem to have that problem in Verona. Helb says that New Jersey towns have to file a report on “unaccounted-for water” with the state each year, and we pass. We also have much better water quality than in the 1980s, as you can see from the report the town sends out on that.
And one more little fact for your end of summer cocktail party chatter: The average Verona household uses 220 gallons of water a day. To see how you measure up, look for the “consumption” number on your bill and multiply it by 1,000 to get the total gallons you used in the billing cycle. Divide by the number of days in the billing–90–and you have your answer.
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