Austin Water identifies primary cause for water outages in the city


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council approved a construction contract to replace water service lines at about 4,000 homes around Austin during its meeting Thursday. The service lines are located in more than 60 subdivisions and will improve reliability and resiliency for customers, Austin Water said.

Water service lines are smaller pipelines that connect from the water main, typically located in the street, to customers’ private plumbing lines.

In the late 1960s it was custom to use polybutylene and polyethylene, referred to as poly, for installing new water service lines. Over time, these plastic resin materials have turned brittle and become prone to breakage, especially in areas where water pressure is higher. This has resulted in water outages for customers that require emergency repairs. 

“These subdivisions that are identified for this project are areas that have polybutylene and polyethylene, service lines and high water pressure,” Shay Ralls Roalson, assistant director for Engineering Services at Austin Water, explained. “Over the course of time, we’ve realized that its not a material that holds up well in areas that have high pressure.”

Since the 60s, Austin Water estimates about 25,000 poly water service lines were installed, and it has to date replaced more than 3,000 of these lines with stronger materials. A KXAN investigation in July of this year found Austin Water Utility pipes leaked more water in 2020 than in any of the previous 12 years — more than 7.34 billion gallons. At the time, Austin Water said those losses were within an acceptable range.

In 2022, a selected contractor will begin replacement work starting with areas with higher water pressure. According to Austin Water’s website, the city regulates systemwide pressure through water pressure zones. Water pressures within these zones vary depending on elevation or proximity to system facilities that affect water pressure such as pump stations and water tanks. Locations where pressures exceed 65 pounder per square inch are considered high water pressure zones.

“Austin Water has identified that this outdated material is the primary source of service line breaks in our system and has a proactive program to replace these lines with stronger materials,” Austin Water Director Greg Meszaros said. “These replacements will improve reliability for customers, decrease the cost and inconvenience of emergency repairs and help reduce water leaks in our system.”

Affected customers will be notified before work begins in their subdivision. In addition to this contract, Austin Water plans to continue to use in-house crews to proactively replace poly water services and may execute additional contracts to expedite the replacements. 

Courtesy: Austin Water

Austin Water has already replaced about 3,000 water service lines in about 25 divisions. A spokesperson provided us a chart that measures the success of those replacements. The agency says it saw a significant decrease in emergency repairs after replacement of water service lines. Those repairs dropped from nearly 200 per year to about 20 per year in 25 subdivisions where service line replacements have been completed.

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