10:40am

Tue February 25, 2014
Infrastructure

Syracuse patching twice as many water main breaks as normal

Water department crews have spent a lot more time this winter digging into frozen ground, shoveling asphalt and sifting through mud to find holes in Syracuse’s plumbing as an unusually high number of water main breaks is putting a strain on city resources.

Since the beginning of the year, the city’s century-old water system has sprung more than a hundred leaks. That’s more than two a day that city works crews have had to patch and twice the number the city normally deals with.

Just because Syracuse’s water mains are no longer made of old tree trunks, doesn’t mean the system isn’t aging. And then there’s the cold weather, says Water Department superintendent Paul Trovato.

A water department worker tries to find the source of a leak.
Credit Ryan Delany / WRVO

"With the frost, and the old pipes, this is not in our favor right now," Trovato said.

The frigid temperatures of this harsh winter are taking a heavy toll on the city’s plumbing. Trovato says the current rough estimate is that all the leaks will cost the city about $500,000. But they won’t know the full price tag until this summer.

"Normally, we wouldn’t even be close to that," he said.

Repairing the streets when it warms up - restoration, Trovato calls it - will add to the price tag later.

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner has even called in a water main break she spotted on her way home; a gusher just a few blocks from the water department headquarters. She’s asked New York state for an extra $16 million in December for infrastructure repairs and upgrades.

"You can’t complain about cold and snow in Syracuse, she said. "That’s part of what makes us unique and part of why we enjoy living here. But when you have an old infrastructure system, when you have the cold come in, it shows you where your problems are."

Miner says the city has only been able to budget half of what it should for infrastructure upgrades the past few years.

This past weekend’s warm-up isn’t necessarily a good thing. With temperatures dropping again this week, that means a quick thaw and re-freeze of the ground. And that puts a lot of stress on the pipes.