Pipes bursting plague region

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Dry weather across the region has caused a rash of water main breaks and forced communities into crisis mode.
In Tupelo alone, 18 major water lines have burst since September. Plantersville has experienced five broken mains this month. Booneville had two.
Typically, the number of broken mains remains closer to zero.
Lack of moisture in the ground causes the earth to crack and shift, a motion that can snap long sections of pressurized water pipes. The situation occurs each spring and fall as weather patterns change, but this season has been especially troublesome.
“It seems to me this year we’re getting more activity than I’ve ever seen before,” said Tupelo Water & Light Manager Johnny Timmons.
He said one weekend alone, the city logged four back-to-back bursts. Each one can affect hundreds of customers, either reducing water pressure or completely halting the flow.
It takes about four hours to fix each main.
“It has totally distracted us from our normal work schedule,” Timmons said. “We’ve been focused so much on broke water mains.”
Northeast Mississippi has received less precipitation than normal for this time of year, according to the National Weather Service. About 2.5 inches fell so far this month versus the typical 3.
The region is about 2 inches below average since Sept. 1.
But the problem seems to have skipped some communities. Saltillo hasn’t had a single main break. Neither has the Wheeler-Frankstown Water Association.
“We’ve been pretty lucky so far; we’ve had just a few old service lines crack but we haven’t had much trouble so far with the dry weather,” said Donald Hudson of the Wheeler-Frankstown Water Association. “But you never know.”
Broken pipes have kept Brandon Burcham busy. The independent rural water operator said he has repaired about four major water main breaks this past month.
“That’s pretty normal going into the fall,” he said. “When the ground starts shifting around due to the temperature and moisture change, it will expand and contract and pull the joints apart.”
Soil condition also plays a role. In Tupelo, water mains rarely break east of U.S. Highway 45 because of the sandy soil. The farther you go west, the more breaks you see, said TW&L Water and Sewer Superintendent Greg Reed.
That’s also true in Booneville.
“When it does happen due to dry weather, it happens on the west side of town due to the soil condition,” said Christy Cain of Booneville Gas & Water. The soil there “is almost like a foam.”
The problem hits drinking water pipes more so than sewage pipes – none of which have burst in the city this fall. That’s because drinking water pipes are pressurized, making them more taut than sewage pipes. They also typically come in 20-foot sections, offering less flexibility than the 4-foot sections common in sewer lines.
Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.