Water Main Breaks

What is a Water Main

A water main is a primary water pipe that supplies water throughout the Town. Most water mains and pipes run underground, often under roads. While extremely old pipes were usually galvanized steel, most water mains installed between the 1930s and 1980 were made of cast iron. Today, most water mains are made of ductile iron.

What Causes A Water Main Break

Water main breaks occur for a number of reasons, but the most common reasons are age and temperature. All materials wear out over time, which can eventually result in a water main failure. Temperature is also a big factor. As the ground freezes, it contracts and puts pressure on the water mains. While unlikely, the water inside the pipe can also freeze resulting in outward pressure on the water main. Hot temperatures and dry air can cause the ground to shift and settle, creating a shearing effect. Other factors that cause a water main break include:

Material – All materials wear out over time. Cast iron can become very brittle over time, increasing the likelihood it will crack as it expands and contracts with changing temperatures.

Erosion – If the soil around a water main erodes due to a previous water issue, nearby construction, or other issues, the area around the main can become unstable.

Corrosion – Steel and cast iron pipes are not treated for corrosion, so they can wear through over time.

Accidents – Unfortunately, there are many human factors that can cause a water main break too. The most common is damage during construction and accidents often result in a water main break.

What Happens When a Water Main Breaks

A water main break occurs when the pipe breaks in some way. The water flowing through the pipe then pours out of that crack or break. Although water typically continues to flow through the water main, it usually has less pressure. Depending on the cause of the water main break, the material of the pipe, and other factors, the water coming out of the pipe can cause additional damage.

The water can erode soil and roads, leading to sinkholes and creating traffic problems. Water may pour or even gush or spray out of the ground, causing flooding. If a water main break occurs near your property, the water could even cause damage inside.

Signs of a Water Main Break

The common assumption is that a water main break will result in a complete loss of water, but water will typically continue to flow in most instances. Instead of a complete loss of water, most water main breaks result in low pressure. If you turn on a single fixture, you might not notice a problem. Turn on several, however, and you may notice low pressure or even extremely slow water flow.

In addition to signs inside your home, a water main break may show signs outside your home as well. While water gushing up out of the ground is certainly the most visually spectacular, it doesn’t always happen. More commonly, you should expect to see water flowing across roads, sidewalks, or grassy areas. Check with your neighbors to see if they are having water issues as well, because a water main break will likely affect an entire street or even neighborhood.

Signs of a Water Main Break Inside Your Home

Low water pressure that causes fixtures to hiss or pop

Slowly flowing water

Dirty water or a rusty discoloration

Pipes or plumbing fixtures make unusual noises

Water seeping or pooling inside your home, especially in the basement or crawlspace

Signs of a Water Main Break Outside Your Home

Water gushing or flowing from the ground

Sinking roads, sidewalks, or ground

Water seeping or pooling out of the ground.

Unusually wet or soggy ground

Water Main Break: What to do After a Water Main Break

Unfortunately, water main breaks can happen at any time. While they often damage roads and other town property, a water main failure can cause significant water damage to your home or business as well.

Steps to Take After A Water Main Break

Call the Water Division at the Public Works Department: (781)-275-7605

You should report any sign of a water main break. The Bedford Public Works Water Division will inspect the damage and determine the proper repair procedure. Repair crews may need to turn off the water or interrupt other utilities. In most cases, they will close off the area so they can excavate and make repairs. Depending on the extent of the damage, repairs can take between a few hours and several weeks. Latest updates are posted online in our DPW webpages.

Limit Water Use – Try to limit water use during a water main break. Avoid drinking tap water, taking a shower or bath, doing laundry, or running the dishwasher. Dirt, debris, and bacteria can contaminate water after a water main break. The Town will advise you if the water is safe to use. In rare instances, we may impose a boil warning or a boil alert. If a boil warning is issued, you should boil water for at least 5 minutes to kill bacteria and parasites and boil off impurities.

Flush Your Pipes – After the water main is repaired, open all fixtures and allow water to run until clear. Start by opening the cold water faucets and allow them to run for at least 2 minutes after they run clear. Then run the hot water until it’s hot. Wait an hour or two and then run the hot water again. This ensures that your hot water tank is flushed. You should also run the washing machine and dishwasher several times as well. Ideally, run two cycles completely empty to clear the water lines, then a third time with just detergent to clean the units themselves.

After experiencing a water main break, the water system is flushed by the water department. In most cases, you will not notice any difference in your water, but there is a chance you may have air in the line or notice a reddish or murky color. Flushing your system after the water has been restored is a good practice and should take care of those problems. If you have any questions, please call the water division at (781)-275-7605.

How Long Does it Take to Fix a Water Main Break

Unfortunately, every water main break is different. While a temporary fix may take as little as a few hours, completely repairing the water main after a break may take days or even weeks. It may require the repaving of roads or the addition of soil to stabilize the area. In addition to the damage on a municipal property, a water main break can cause damage to your property. Water damage restoration time will vary depending on the type and extent of the damage.

While the Town's goal is to restore water services as quickly as possible, it must be done saefly and without risking additional damage to the system. We appreciate your patience and understanding.