By ERIN ROLL
Montclair has had eight water main breaks this year, including two large breaks in September.
On Sept. 10, a water main burst on South Park Street, flooding the street and requiring water to be shut off.
Ten days later, on Sept. 20, another main burst, on Watchung Avenue, between North Mountain and Upper Mountain avenues. Township crews reported that it would take at least two days to repair the main and the road.
Montclair typically sees nine water breaks a year, said Gary Obszarny, director of the Water Bureau. Several factors contribute to the breaks, Obszarny said, including vibrations from road pavement equipment, temperature fluxes and freeze/thaw periods in the winter. And much of Montclair’s water piping is between 80 and 100 years old, if not older, he added.
The winter months tend to be a high-risk time for breaks, with freeze/thaw cycles causing the ground to move, Obszarny said.
“Additionally, when we pave roads, asphalt rollers vibrate the ground to better compact the asphalt material, but the vibrations can also affect the water mains below the street,” he said.
The extent of repairs depends on the extent of pipe failure. Smaller breaks only need a repair clamp. Others require new sections of pipe, anywhere from 5 to as much as 15 feet in length. With all breaks and repairs, roadways need repaving after being dug up.
Montclair generally replaces one mile of pipe a year, which exceeds the annual requirements of the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Water Quality Accountability Act, Obszarny said.
Pipe replacement is expensive since it includes not just materials and labor, but also the cost of traffic control and post-repair street paving. Pipe replacement on township-owned roads can run more than $1 million per mile. On county roads such as Watchung Avenue, that expense would be greater, since county roads have larger pipes running beneath them than town roads, Obszarny said.
The township’s annual budget includes $1.25 million for materials and labor for water main replacement, he said.
The township did not respond to a request for information on how much pipe had been replaced in 2020, or on how much of the replacement budget had been spent.
Montclair’s water pipe system contains over 100 miles of pipe. Those pipes vary in diameter, from 6 inches to 24 inches, and some are more than 100 years old.
Obszarny said the township’s infrastructure, including its water pipes, was largely installed piecemeal over the late 19th and into the 20th century.
The type of pipe used throughout Montclair’s water main system has also varied over the years. In older sections, such as those before 1940, the pipes were not coated. This allows residue, known as tuberculation, to build up on the inside of a pipe, which in turn restricts water flow, Obszarny said.
“Much of the infrastructure is more than 80 years old and will need replacement sooner rather than later,” he said. The township uses technology to help control water pressure in the pipes, so that no major surges in water pressure occur under normal operating conditions, he added.