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Local water mains go bust

Tuesday - 1/7/2014, 9:15pm  ET

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A WSSC worker scrapes away mud to expose the broken water main. (WTOP/Andrew Mollenbeck)

KENSINGTON, Md. - Some people feel weather changes in their bones. But utilities? They feel them in their water mains. And this week's cold snap has caused dozens of ailing pipes to give out.

Temperature swings in either direction can put pressure on water mains.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission reported 38 broken water mains in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties on Tuesday. "In terms of the number we're seeing now -- 35, 40, 50 breaks is a lot of breaks for us," says Jerry Irvine, the public affairs manager. "That's dipping into record territory."

As a result crews and contractors faced a heavy work load in difficult conditions. Many jobs took twice as long as usual.

"When the ground is this frozen, it just takes longer to get to some of these breaks that are deeper in the ground," Irvine says.

Workers also took turns warming up in vehicles.

The temperatures are forecast to rise toward the weekend, but the stress on water mains will likely continue past the cold snap.

"The water temperature lags the air temperature," Irvine says. "Even we start to warm up with the air temperature, you're still going to have water coming out of the Potomac and the Patuxent that's in the low 30s."

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