13 Investigates: Why so many water main breaks in Indianapolis? - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

13 Investigates: Why so many water main breaks in Indianapolis?

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The extremely high demand for water is putting a lot of stress on the city's aging water mains. The extremely high demand for water is putting a lot of stress on the city's aging water mains.
A golfer surveys the grass at the Coffin Golf Course A golfer surveys the grass at the Coffin Golf Course

INDIANAPOLIS - The water company is asking US to wait at least another week before we water our lawns.

The extremely high demand for water is putting a lot of stress on the city's aging water mains.

13 investigates has found the number of breaks isn't just high when compared to last year. It's also abnormally higher than one of our nation's biggest cities.

At Indy Park's Coffin Golf Course, we found a mix of greens and browns and watering opinions.

"It's a little warm. You can tell it's a little dry. They've cut back on the watering, but it's not too bad," said Terry Powers taking a break to hydrate.

"The majority of it is okay. They've been throwing a lot of water on them," said another golfer, Darrell Britt. They have to save the greens or nobody will come."

News of an extended request to voluntarily limit water consumption made news near the ninth hole.

It comes as the Indianapolis Water Company says high water consumption is "stressing" its old system.

"The lack of rain will drive people to demand more water, all at the same time. With that demand, it stresses the pipes. And that's what causes the main breaks," explained Department of Waterworks Executive Director Matthew Klein.

The city has had 65 main failures so far this month, nearly a dozen more than last year.

But water mains were breaking at a record pace well before the dry spell. Most contributed to freezing and thawing.

Now the city says it's the heat-related demand.

"We want to make sure main breaks don't happen on hospitals, assisted living facilities and people who might be at risk," Klein said.

13 Investigates wanted to know how other cities with old systems were faring.

In Friday's New York Daily News, New York City reports 7,000 miles of old water mains dating back to the 1870s. That's 3,000 more than Indianapolis and some of New York's pipes are ten years older.

Yet last year New York recorded just 444 water main breaks. Indianapolis had nearly 700.

In 2009, New York had 360 breaks, while Indianapolis nearly doubled that number with 600.

New York city officials say heat is not a factor.

"Our 4,300 miles of mains are made up of different qualities, 50, 60, 100 years old, and depending on how you move the water, and the pressures," Klein said it could all add up to trouble.

New York also reportedly spent a billion dollars replacing and maintaining its system since 2002 using a team of "leak detection units." Indianapolis does not have such a system.

Still, Klein says the city has spent millions inspecting and replacing leaking pipes in problem areas. He's optimistic the recent water rate increases will provide solutions.

"We're going to be able now to invest in the necessary infrastructure to help get these demand issues resolved," he told 13 Investigates.

Klein says those demand issues could be improved by next summer.

The city is looking at new technology to do better water audits to detect over stressed mains.

The city does have an ordinance for a mandatory ban that carries fines. But those extreme measures would only occur if demand, supply and treatment of the water were all issues.

Right now, he's thankful for the voluntary compliance.

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