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New pipe on way as communities cope

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — It’s 48 inches in diameter, 10 feet below surface and has never been a problem before.

Now, after 11 communities and more than 300,000 people — an “unprecedented” number — were told they must boil water from the tap likely until Friday, the Great Lakes Water Authority has launched an investigation into what caused the main to break Monday.

Officials said they were notified about the break at about 5 p.m. Monday at 14 Mile between Farmington and Drake in Farmington Hills.

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Great Lakes Water Authority CEO Sue McCormick and its COO Cheryl Porter said at a news conference Tuesday that the priority was repairing the main.

The pipe was installed in 1970 and is “in the middle of its service life,” Porter said.

Pipes like the 48-inch main are not checked for maintenance, McCormick said. The pipe, 10 feet below the surface of the road, had never undergone repairs.

“There is no maintenance of pipes ... other than acoustic listening for leaks, it’s generally not inspected,” she said. “Inside inspection (of the pipe) is fairly new ... and unusual for pipes of this size.”

The water authority isolated the leak and started to re-pressurize parts of the system, providing water to some areas.

Porter said while unlikely, a power interruption at one of the facilities could have caused the break.

The water authority is planning to replace the damaged sections of the pipe.

“... The new pipe is on its way from Illinois,” Porter said. “When it arrives, we will continue with our testing. We will make sure it can withstand the pressures and pass water quality testing, which typically takes 48 hours.”

The water authority expects the pipe to be repaired by Friday.

“This is the largest number and communities affected (by a break) we’ve had,” McCormick said. “The number is unprecedented. We’re very sorry for the big impact this has had for the communities we serve.”