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Despite hundreds of breaks in 2017, officials say KC’s water main replacement program has helped

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A five-year-old program aimed at fixing outdated water mains in Kansas City is proving to be successful.

Of the 2,800 miles of water mains in the city, 600 miles are more than 100 years old.

“Water main breaks happen quite often, but we are trying to replace 1 percent per year or 28 miles per year,” said Matt Bond, the chief engineering officer for KC Water Services.

KC Water Services rolled out its Main Replacement Program in 2012 when the city experienced a record 1,844 water main breaks. In 2017, the number of main breaks in the city was 745 -- 40 percent fewer than the inaugural year of the program.

“I think we are truly getting those lines most at risk that are buried underground,” Bond said. “You can’t get in there and examine them very effectively because they’re under streets, under sidewalks, and so we have to use the best of our predictive tools.”

KC Water uses a geographical information system that predicts potential troubled spots underground. It allows them to prioritize which main is at greater risk of giving out.

“The system tells you what the size is, how many breaks there have been on it, what the materials are and when it was constructed,” Bond said.

Deciding which mains to replace is about a three-year process from analysis to design to the actual completion of the project, he said.

On Thursday, crews from KC Water and contractors were working on a water main project near Belleview Avenue and 81st Street.

“We’re replacing about 24,000 linear feet of main or 4 and a half miles,” said Rebecca Mitchell, a project manager for KC Water.

It’s a bigger project than usual, but it’s one of about 15-20 projects the department takes on per year as part of the project. That doesn't include emergency breaks, which are handled immediately.

“On this street (Belleview), the old main was cast iron pipe, and we’re replacing it with ductile iron pipe, which is a little bit more flexible,” Mitchell said.

Until the 1970s, Mitchell said the city only used cast iron pipe; the new ductile iron pipe has a predicted lifespan between 80 and 100 years.

Nicole Charmley, who lives on Belleview, said she’s happy to see the city putting in a more reliable water main.

“We’ve had about three or four main breaks in the five years I’ve been here, so I’m glad they’re doing this now” Charmley said.

KC Water Services has replaced about 140 miles of water mains since 2012; the department plans to have all 2,800 miles replaced in 100 years.