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Cold snaps waterlines in New Kensington, Lower Burrell,

Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch
Municipal Authority of New Kensington worker Ron Balla, Jr. walks through a pool of freezing water after a waterline break on Chester Drive in Lower Burrell on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. The authority, which has two roads crews to do repairs, has responded to more than 50 breaks this month.

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By Braden Ashe
Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, 12:31 a.m.

One of the New Kensington water authority's busiest months ever culminated Wednesday morning with a steady stream of waterline breaks in New Kensington and Lower Burrell.

Five waterlines — four in Lower Burrell and one in New Kensington — cracked from 6 to 9 a.m. following a night of single-digit temperatures. A sixth break on Western Way and Pearl Drive occurred later in the afternoon.

The breaks left about 118 households in both cities without service for a number of hours as the authority scrambled to complete repairs through the late afternoon into late Wednesday night, according to Phillip Toney, water authority distribution superintendent.

“I've been here for 36 years,” Toney said, “and today is one of the busiest days I've ever experienced.”

The first break was reported about 6 a.m. along Chester Drive in Lower Burrell. Less than two hours later, two more pipes broke within a half-mile of the first — one on Schreiber Street and the other on Arizona Drive.

Toney said the breaks occurred on different pipes and that the proximity in time and geography was coincidental.

Nine water customers, including Lower Burrell City Hall, were affected by the second break.

The authority's nine-man crew also dealt with breaks that occurred shortly before 9 a.m. along Indian Fields Trail in Lower Burrell and Warren Avenue in New Kensington.

Repairs were completed and service restored throughout the day and night.

The water authority repaired the Schreiber Street line about 1 p.m., Indian Fields line sometime before 6:30 p.m. while Arizona Drive was back on about 8:30 p.m. The Warren Avenue repairs continued until about 9 p.m., and Chester Drive until about 10 p.m.

Crews were still working on Western Way and Pearl Drive late into Wednesday night.

There were no reports of flooding in the affected areas and each of the roads with line breaks remained open through repairs.

4 times the average

The water authority has responded to about 40 waterline breaks this month, he said.

That's about four times an average winter month for the authority, which serves roughly 15,000 customers across Arnold, New Kensington, Lower Burrell, Upper Burrell, some of Plum and sections of Allegheny and Washington townships.

“If it's not the worst month I've seen here, it's definitely up there,” Toney said. “The temperatures have been killing us.”

The effects of the sustained frigid temperatures have been felt, too, by the larger Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County.

With more than 2,500 miles of pipe running through an area comparable to the size of Rhode Island, the authority expects about six waterline breaks in its system each day, according to Assistant Manager Tom Ceraso.

But this January, the daily average is closer to 10, he said, and the authority has already responded to more than 300 breaks, including 30 in the Valley. “There have been a lot of drastic temperature changes this month, which is obviously bad for the pipes,” he said. “When the water temperatures drop, the pipes condense, and they expand when temperatures go up. They can crack either way, and the pressure of the ground freezing and thawing takes a huge toll on the pipes, as well.”

The authority has responded to about 70 more pipeline breaks this month than in January 2012.

Since the authority has crews regularly scheduled around the clock all week, the breaks have not led to a spike in payroll this year, Ceraso said. Some extra costs have been incurred with extra materials needed to make the repairs, though the assistant manager couldn't estimate an amount.

The Westmoreland water authority responded to about a dozen breaks on Wednesday, including one in Hyde Park. Ceraso said about 20 people were out of service from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. from a break at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Murphy Street. Traffic was unaffected.

In Butler County, the Municipal Authority of Buffalo Township shut off service to “less than 50 people” after a line break on Maple Street, according to General Manager Don Amadee. The break occurred about noon with service returning in the late afternoon.

It was unclear whether there were any breaks in Allegheny County. Several municipalities, including Harmar, Oakmont, Fox Chapel, did not return calls for comment.

Springdale Council President Dave Finley said the borough hasn't had any waterline breaks this winter.

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or Staff writer Mary Ann Thomas contributed to this report.

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