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Houston drought conditions busting pipes throughout the city

The current drought has dried the clay soil underground, causing it to shift and break many of the city’s aging water pipes.

HOUSTON — Houston work crews are trying to keep up with the non-stop number of water leaks popping throughout the city this summer.

The current drought has dried the clay soil underground, causing it to shift and break many of the city’s aging water pipes.

There were 577 active water leaks across the city on Monday. That is about four times as many as crews were working on last year.

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Houston Public Works crews spent hours in an east Houston neighborhood fixing yet another broken water line. The department says the constant stream of 311 calls to the city reporting water leaks doesn’t stop.

Repairing the broken pipes is a lengthy process and often involves cutting off the water to several blocks of homes.

“It could be anywhere from five to twenty homes just depending on the size and where the valves are located,” said Michael Johnson, the assistant director of Houston Public Works drinking water operations.

He says the City has brought in contract crews to help with the hundreds of water leaks that need to be repaired.

“Most of these lines that are breaking are old lines that have been in the ground for years, 20 years or something like that,” Johnson said.

What’s making these old and brittle pipes rupture on such a large scale this summer has to do with the weather. The lack of rain has caused Houston’s clay soil to dry and harden underground. When it shifts, pipes break.

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But even this year’s drought isn’t the worst Houston has seen.

“2011 was the worst I’ve seen it,” Johnson said. 

Johnson was in the field during the drought that year.

“I was actually working then when we had those breaks and I would say we had double of what we have now,” Johnson said. 

Moving forward, broken pipes may not be as much of a problem during hot, dry Houston summers as the City works to update its aging, metal infrastructure.

Each broken water line is replaced with a new PVC pipe, which allows for more flexibility underground, making for a better match against the dry clay that’s as hard as a rock.

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