Frigid weather hard on infrastructure

By Bill Colvard -

With the local weather rarely making it above freezing in recent weeks, and the daily low temperatures sinking further and further into the teens and single digits, the excessively cold weather has taken a toll on local infrastructure.

Jeff Boyles, Mount Airy public works director, reports four water main breaks in the past few days. In discussing whether those issues were weather-related, he was succinct in his assessment: “Absolutely.”

“It’s always a challenge this time of the year,” Boyles said. “Temperature change puts stress on pipes, and causes cracks.” As to whether incessant sub-freezing temperatures over the course of many days makes the matter worse, Boyles said, “It doesn’t help.”

“It puts extra-special stress on cast iron pipes,” said Boyles. “The new ductile iron pipes are much less likely to give problems.” Boyles said that in the 1970s Mount Airy began using ductile iron pipe to replace older cast iron pipes, and estimated that in the intervening years, about half of the older cast iron pipes have been replaced.

Boyles said this is being done as part of an overall rehab of the system. “We have identified the most critical areas, and are taking care of those.” Boyles said the current ten-year plan would only replace a fraction of the remaining cast iron pipes.

As to how long it would take to replace all cast iron pipes still in use, “there is no time frame for that. It would take years and years.”

“It’s a lot more random than you would think,” said Boyles. “We can’t find a contributing factor, other than the cold. And they’re buried,” he added. “You bury things so you don’t ever have to see them again.”

“It’s a challenge,” he said, and then gave credit and expressed appreciation for the public works workers dealing with the broken and frozen lines in harsh weather conditions.

“These guys deserve some credit. They are working on these lines in miserable conditions. They’re wind-blown, and have ice on their uniforms, but they get the job done with no complaints.

By Bill Colvard

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

Reach Bill Colvard at 336-415-4699.

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