Water department testing West Philly main that burst Sunday

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 Workers look over the broken main that caused widespread flooding in West Philadelphia.  The Water Department is posting updates on the burst main. (Philadelphia Water Department)

Workers look over the broken main that caused widespread flooding in West Philadelphia. The Water Department is posting updates on the burst main. (Philadelphia Water Department)

A weekend water main break dumped millions of gallons into the area of North 52nd Street in West Philadelphia.  It was the third major break in that neighborhood since 1994, but that does not necessarily mean it will be put at the top of the list for replacement. 

The city of Philadelphia has 3,000 miles of water mains running underneath the streets. John DiGuilio of the Water Department says crews test about 1,000 miles a year to search for cracks and other problems. The department is posting updates on the area affected by the weekend break online.

“If we identify any leaks, we work to repair it,” he said. “We also have a capital improvement plan where we replace upwards of 28 miles of mains per year.  Those would be the most vulnerable mains that are in our system that we are aware of.”

The goal is to avoid flooding homes, cars and streets as happened over the weekend.  DiGuilio says they have people trained to listen for breaks and problems in the pipes.  They use geophones,  which work like a stethoscope, to listen for problems without digging up a street.

“We certainly inspect if we have a break on a main. We look to see if there are any weaknesses on that main.  If there are some blocks that have several main breaks on that block, that main will be replaced sooner than one that has no breaks on it,” he added. 

This weekend’s break occurred in Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell’s district.  Replacing the main installed in 1885 a priority, she said.

“I think that’s a very good idea.  I think that makes common sense I’m sorry that you thought of it and not I,” she said. 

Blackwell says if the Water Department does not cooperate, she will propose hearings on the matter.

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