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What’s up with all the pipe breaks in Fort Lauderdale?

Why are so many of those vintage pipes giving way at the same time? And why now?
A city of Fort Lauderdale crew responds to a water main break in the area of 100 South Birch Road in Fort Lauderdale Beach. Fort Lauderdale has been dealing with a slew of back-to-back pipe breaks of late. (Susan Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP) [SUSAN STOCKER  |  AP]
A city of Fort Lauderdale crew responds to a water main break in the area of 100 South Birch Road in Fort Lauderdale Beach. Fort Lauderdale has been dealing with a slew of back-to-back pipe breaks of late. (Susan Stocker/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP) [SUSAN STOCKER | AP]

Sun Sentinel (via AP)

FORT LAUDERDALE — Fort Lauderdale, a city with water and sewer lines old enough to crack and crumble, has been dealing with a slew of back-to-back pipe breaks of late — and people want to know why.

Why are so many of those vintage pipes giving way at the same time? And why now?

“All of these are happening really close together, which is just odd,” one woman posted on social media.

Fort Lauderdale residents endured six sewer main breaks in December, all the way from Rio Vista north to Victoria Park and Coral Ridge. Then in mid-January, a water main break flooded streets in Victoria Park. And on Feb. 3, the city was faced with a trifecta of pipe breaks — two sewer pipes and one water main in different parts of the city.

So what gives? Could tourist season and all those extra flushing toilets have anything to do with it?

City officials say no, that it has more to do with the age of the pipes — many are pushing 50 and beyond — than the number of people using them.

“We do not believe the tourist season and pipes breaking are related,” City Manager Chris Lagerbloom said. “These are old pipes that need to be replaced."

Commissioner Steve Glassman echoed that claim.

“All the experts are saying it’s not a capacity issue,” he said. “Corrosion not explosion. It’s an age issue. Old pipes.”

Not everyone, however, agrees.

A sudden population explosion can indeed put more stress and strain on the city’s water pipes, says Greg Anderson, a project manager with the engineering firm SEH Inc.

“An increase in usage can cause pressure to change in a water main," he said. “That could be enough to make a pipe crack."

Whatever’s causing the pipes to implode, this is clear: It’s not going to end anytime soon.

“This is our new reality,” Glassman said. “This is not going to be the last break. We’re still way behind the 8 ball. But we are addressing everything, and we have a plan.”

City officials plan to spend $600 million over the next five years fixing and replacing Fort Lauderdale’s water and sewer pipes. The total tally will come to at least $1.4 billion over the next 20 years, experts say.

Here’s more details on all three pipe breaks.

Water pipe on Birch Road

A 16-inch water main pipe at the beach broke at 10 p.m. Sunday (Feb. 2), drenching streets in front of the Jackson Tower condo at 100 S. Birch Road.

Residents who live near the water main break on Birch Road were advised to boil their tap water for at least one minute before using it for drinking, cooking, making ice, washing dishes or brushing their teeth. The boil-water order applies to beach residents who live south of Castillo Street and north of Poinsettia Street.

On Monday (Feb. 3) morning, water had slowed to a trickle at the Jackson Tower and other nearby buildings, including the Ritz-Carlton.

Crews began digging their way to the water pipe so they could contain the leak and make repairs, Lagerbloom said. By 2 p.m., crews had isolated the leak, shut off the valves and taken the line out of service.

Residents who were not notified about the break until Monday morning are now asking why the city didn’t send out alerts sooner.

“I’m asking that question now,” Lagerbloom said. “And I don’t know. It seems like this is a long time for us to be going without a notice."

Even the city manager was one of the last to know.

“I learned about it this morning from the general manager at the Ritz-Carlton,” Lagerbloom said. “I always want to hear things like that from the staff. I am adding myself to the mandatory call list for every single pipe break in this city.”

Sewer pipe break in Harbor Beach

A small sewage spill in the Harbor Beach neighborhood flooded one family’s driveway when a cast-iron pipe broke early Monday morning.

The six-inch sewer pipe has been on the job since 1966.

“It was isolated quickly and turned off,” Lagerbloom said. “Most of the sewage was going into the stormwater catch basin. Some of it was in the swale.”

Lagerbloom referred to the repairs for the smaller pipe as more routine than what crews faced with the supersized mess that flooded Rio Vista, where repairs dragged on for days.

In Harbor Beach, crews were able to quickly contain the leak so that it didn’t slime the roads quite like the bigger spill in Rio Vista.

Sewer pipe break at George English Park

On Thursday (Jan. 30), an aging 42-inch sewer pipe that runs under the Middle River began spewing sewage near George English Park and the Galleria mall.

City officials thought they’d stopped the spill Sunday when a bypass line was put in place before 4 a.m. But a diver went back down Sunday afternoon and discovered a section of the pipe was still leaking sewage into George English Lake, Lagerbloom said.

Crews planned to work overnight to seal the leak.

In December, Fort Lauderdale racked up one of South Florida’s biggest sewage spills: 126.9 million gallons. That number will get higher once the tally is in for the two recent sewer pipe breaks, city officials say.

But as of Monday, it was unclear how many more gallons had spilled into the waterways.

For more details, neighbors can call the city’s 24-hour Neighbor Call Center at 954-828-8000.

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