It seems to be a surge: a series of water main breaks this summer that interrupted service, and tied up traffic on busy roads.

June 24th on Orange Avenue near Williamson Road.
June 28th on Melrose near Westside Boulevard.
July 8th on Peters Creek Road near Hershberger.

These and other water main breaks prompted us to ask what's happening.

Gary Robertson is the Western Virginia Water Authority's Executive Director for Water Services. "These pipes that we're seeing breaking were installed in the 1950s," Robertson told WDBJ7. "They're a cast iron which is fairly brittle."

Winter months are the busiest for water main breaks, with freezing temperatures and the thaw that inevitably follows.  But the summer has its own challenges, Robertson says, when dry conditions make the ground more rigid.

"And then with the truck traffic in these high profile areas sometimes these pipes break.," he said.

The water main breaks in recent weeks have happened in high-traveled areas, and they've caused significant problems, but the number is not unusual for this time of year.

Throw in other work, and it's easy to see why water authority crews and contractors stay busy year round.

Sarah Baumgardner is the water authority's spokesperson. "We're responsible for maintaining the entire water distribution system, and that's 1500 miles of pipe," Baumgardner said in an interview. "Think about that. If you stretch that pipe end to end it would reach from Roanoke all the way out to Colorado."

The Western Virginia Water Authority spends about $6 million a year on capital improvements to the water system. Each year at least one project replaces some of that brittle cast iron pipe. With the recent water main breaks, the authority will be reevaluating where best to spend those dollars.