Timeline of a Water Main Break

Causes of Water Main Breaks

Main breaks happen due to various reasons and are a normal part of operating a water utility. Temperature changes or overly dry or wet weather can cause the ground to shift. This results in breaks to the water main pipes. The age of the main or sudden fluctuations in the pressure may also cause a break. Older pipes may break due to corrosion. Nearly a quarter-million times every year, a main break wastes water, disrupts service or causes property damage somewhere in the United States. That is about once every two minutes. Main breaks are unpredictable, but when they happen, Rancho California Water District (Rancho Water/District) considers it our top priority to restore service.

Timeline of a Water Main Break

  1. A leak is reported as a possible water main break.
  2. Rancho Water staff investigate the leak.
  3. If staff determines that the leak is a water main break, he or she determines whether the break can hold long enough to be scheduled for repair or if it is an emergency situation.
  4. If the leak has damaged the road or sidewalk, the area must be blocked off. If possible traffic will be routed around it.
  5. Rancho Water staff notify the necessary crew of the emergency.
  6. Rancho Water staff notify other utilities to come and mark their utility lines. This step is required by law and Rancho Water may not begin to excavate until the area has been marked.
  7. Heavy equipment is brought in for the excavation. Some excavations can be very tricky, depending on what is underground and repair crews may have to dig by hand around gas or electric lines.
  8. Once the crew reaches the main, they re-route the water to minimize service disruption by closing nearby valves. This process helps them isolate the main they are working on to stop the water flow while they work.
  9. Crews inspect the pipe and plan the best repair or replacement. At times, breaks require unique parts in order to be repaired. This can take hours or days, depending on the specialty of the part.
  10. Once the water main is repaired, the main must be thoroughly cleaned, disinfected and flushed prior to being reconnected to the system. This process can take several hours, as Rancho Water's number one concern is providing potable safe drinking water which meets and or exceeds all State and Federal Standards. On rare occasions, the main may break again as the water being turned on can cause a sudden increase in pressure causing weakened areas to separate and leak.
  11. Once the repair is complete and the main has been flushed and re-charged, the road or sidewalk will be repaired.

After a water main repair, you may see reddish discoloration in your water, this discoloration is caused by small amounts of sediments that get disturbed during the flushing process. These compounds pose no threat to health and are merely unpleasant. You can get rid of the discoloration by running cold water for a few minutes through a tap without an aerator, such as the bathtub or outside spigot. You can always call the District if you have any concerns!

A simple water main repair can be completed in six to eight hours, but large or complicated repairs may take several days.