Worst-case break highlights pipe replacements in Roanoke

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ROANOKE, Va (WDBJ7) In Roanoke early Tuesday morning crews hollowed out Williamson Road, on the hunt for a water main break.

According to Sarah Baumgardner, Public Relations Manager with the Western Virginia Water Authority, this is what a worst case scenario looks like. "When it does break, it causes lots of disruption," she said.

The Water Authority is engaged in a race against time to keep scenes like these from unfolding. Pulling out the bad "pipe that was installed in the 1950's," and leaving the good. That includes, surprisingly, "pipes from the 1800's that are in downtown Roanoke that are in really good shape."

The pipe that broke on Monday was half-century old cast iron, and it cracked like glass. Baumgardner said the water authority is in the process of replacing pipes like it across the city.

"That has been our focus for the last couple of years," Baumgardner said.

The pipe on Williamson was on their list, but predicting which pipe will fail when involves a lot of factors "We look at break history, we look at the age of the pipe, we look at traffic, we look at customer service," Baumgardner said.

And it all comes at a price.

"We have been spending between nine and twelve million dollars a year to focus on that pipe," Baumgardner said.

When those repairs go right, a narrow strip of concrete is peeled away; an irritating, but planned traffic jam the result. Baumgardner said keeping it this way is a round-the-clock mission.

"Be more proactive than reactive," Baumgardner said.

There are still 20 miles of the problematic piping left underground in the Roanoke Valley. Officials say replacing it all will take years.