SALEM, Ohio (WKBN) – When a 70-year-old water main broke in downtown Salem on Thursday, Newgarden Avenue was barely recognizable and looked more like a stream than a street.
The break happened fast and hard.
“Cast iron is a metal that when it breaks, it breaks. It does not bend much,” Salem Utilities Superintendent Don Weingart said.
Weingart said leaks happen a lot in this area of the city.
“Industrial area where you have a lot of grounds going on, welds and so on, which in the past have been grounded to our water system,” he said.
Those electrical currents can break off small chunks of pipe, weakening it over the years. The pipe that broke on Thursday was nearly 70 years old, which in this area is a spring chicken.
“Being an old community, we have cast iron pipes that were installed back in the late 1800s, So aging is a problem,” Weingart said.
Salem has between 40 and 60 breaks a year, but has not seen one this bad in about four years. Despite the aging system, a full replacement just isn’t possible.
“Unless there is a lot of money available, which there is not, infrastructure will go on and we’ll say ‘hope we can do it another time’,” Weingart said.
Thursday’s break cost the city of Salem about $10,000 in labor and materials alone. That does not include the cost of the lost water or the cost to fix the street, some of which was washed away by the water.
“Infrastructure is quite expensive because you have to replace not only the material that carries the water, but you also have to replace surface areas like streets, sidewalks and so on,” Weingart said.
But that is still cheaper than replacing an entire system of pipes, that might not need it.
“Normally, repairs like that, you may just move down the line a few feet and the pipe may be perfectly alright,” Weingart said.
Workers replaced 20 feet of 16-inch pipe, patched the street and got everyone’s water running again by late Friday morning.