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Columbus Water Infrastructure Fails in Historic Cold Snap

COLUMBUS (Rob Wells/Kate Liebers) -- The cold weather caused problems Tuesday morning and afternoon as water mains burst throughout the city.

Columbus officials said many of those breaks happen in systems that are sometimes more than 100 years old. After Monday's downtown flood, public utility workers have been taking a closer look at other water lines in the hopes of avoiding a similar scenario.

Crews have been working around the clock Tuesday in response to the major break at North Fourth and Gay streets as well as about a dozen smaller water line problems in the area.

George Zonders of the Columbus Department of Public Utilities said it only takes a small crack to cause a huge problem.

"I understand that it was probably a crack involved before it opened up into that large hole," he said. "But you really can't go in and tell you a specific cause there's no type of autopsy."

In regards to Monday's flooding, an 8-foot piece of cast iron hidden below the downtown streets had cracked. The pipe was installed in the 1930s.

Zonders said city leaders shell out $20 million every year to make sure the city's water lines are working properly.

"We take water lines and track when there are repairs and when there are failures," he said. "If we see a line with a high incidence of failure it will go up on the list."

To replace all the underground water lines in Columbus would be overwhelming, he said.

"The total system, including sewer and water lines, would be $40 billion," Zonders said. "Obviously, we can't do that because everything is paid through our rate payers."

He said crews will continue to repair the other breakage problems that could not withstand this historic cold snap.

"It's a very cold and dirty job," Zonders said. "You go into a hole. We try to maintain pressure so that we don't have to issue a boil alert."
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