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Midwinter thaw sparks water main breaks

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OGDENSBURG — Midwinter thaws usually are a welcome respite, especially to those weary of icy sidewalks, snowed-in driveways and layered clothing.

But not to the city Department of Public Works.

The earth is at it again, thawing and then freezing, with frost settling in three to five feet down, shifting subtly enough to avoid the Richter scale. The city’s mostly century-old grid of water mains — 80 miles of them — doesn’t get off so easily.

Too much movement and the old pipes tend to break, causing rushing water to saturate the ground and, eventually, break through the street surface to create a pool.

According to Public Works Director Kit W. Smith, there have been seven water main breaks in the past month, the most recent a pair of them Monday on Paterson and North Rosseel streets.

Seven breaks in a month is a high number, Mr. Smith said, but the reason for the calls puts it in perspective.

“Everything we do is pretty much weather-driven,” he said.

Water main breaks, Mr. Smith said, usually are caused by friction between the underground soil and external pipe corrosion.

In recent years, the department has been able to reduce water main breaks by repairing or replacing corroded mains with concrete-lined iron pipe.

The average water main break costs the DPW about $4,000 in labor, parts and materials to repair.

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