Kalispell's aging infrastructure partly to blame for water main breaks


KALISPELL, Mont. - Kalispell has had more water main breaks this year compared to last year, and part of the problem is its aging infrastructure. Depending on the break the cost to repair it can range from a couple hundred dollars to upwards of $3,000.

Public Works Director Susie Turner expects to have water main breaks, and Kalispell's aging infrastructure does not help the issue.

"We go all the way back to the 1920s," said Turner.

She said a lot of variables go into deciding to replace the infrastructure, but lately their focus has been on age.

"We seem to be focusing quite a bit on the older mains right now; we see them deteriorating, and that makes a lot of sense because they are older. It's that older cast iron pipe we are seeing a lot of failures in right now," said Turner.

Turner told NBC Montana water pressure and hammering caused the most recent water main break, but from January to April there were five main breaks blamed on old pipes. Breaks tend to happen in those months because the start of spring leads to the ground shifting as frozen parts thaw.

"Our pipes are 6 feet deep, so as that gets driven down deeper it causes a little bit of movement, so obviously it kind of causes the pipes to move a little bit on the outside," said Turner.

So far there have been 13 water main breaks in Kalispell this year.

"I would say it's a little high for this year, on average we are going to have seven to 10," said Turner.

She said their goal is to replace around six blocks of mains a year, which means the recent 15-block water main replacement on Fourth Avenue East was quite a project. Turner told NBC Montana part of the reason they may have had more breaks this year was because two of the breaks were during the replacement of the water main system on Fourth Avenue East.

In the future Kalispell City Manager Doug Russell said they will replace the water mains as needed by the demands of the community.

"We continue to monitor and identify those areas that may all of a sudden become a high frequency area, evaluate those and put those into programing for future repairs, maintenance, whatever they may need to be. It's just a matter of continuing to plan for the overall maintenance and repair of the infrastructure system," said Russell.

Turner told NBC Montana the department is well equipped to resolve breaks quickly and efficiently as to not inconvenience the community. It takes roughly four to six hours to repair a break, and Russell says the community usually is unaware one was even broken.