A broken water line is a failure in the integrity of the distribution system servicing your home. This may include the water main, the lateral from the main to your home, and the piping within your home. If you are a city water customer, the city water main distribution piping is generally the responsibility of the water authority, company, or local agency. However, the lateral servicing the home and the piping within the home is the responsibility of the building owner or customer. Therefore, it is the customer's responsibility to know the type and condition of the lateral and water piping within the home. If you are on a private water system, you are the owner of the water source, treatment system, and the complete distribution system. In many cases, these problems are caused when a homeowner or contractor digs without conducting an 811 call (USA: Call before you dig).
A broken water line decreases the integrity of the distribution system and results in water loss or leakage from the system and a decrease in water use efficiency and can cause low pressure in the distribution system. Water distribution leaks result in wasting water, increasing monthly water statements or bills, increasing chlorination demand, causing aesthetic issues, increasing energy cost, and potentially exposing the customers to conditions that could violate a primary health standard, cause aesthetic problems, or cause erosion and damage to lawns and even roads.
Note: This website is focussed on water supply but problems with waste water disposal can affect the water supply, especially with broken water lines. Water supply lines usually run under pressure and the pipes are completely full while waste-water lines use gravity to move the waste water and the pipes are usually not full. This means that water tends to leak out of the pressurized water supply lines and to infiltrate into the waste water lines (which creates what the sewage treatment plants call a hydraulic load meaning that the sewage treatment plant has a greater volume of sewage to treat because of the infiltration. However, waste-water lines can break too and release wastewater into the ground. If there are water supply lines nearby, some of that contamination (usually microbial) can get into broken water supply lines even when still under pressure (which is why it is best to keep as wide a separation as possible between outdoor buried water supply lines and waste water lines; water mains and sewage mains are usually on opposite sides of a street). Improperly operating or overloaded on-site septic systems can also contaminate water supply lines. You should be aware, not only of your water supply systems, but also your wastewater disposal system. Ideally, the two should never mix but if they do, you could be the source of the contamination in your drinking water.
The primary health concern related to a broken water line is the exposure of the drinking water to pathogens that may be naturally-occurring within the soils around the piping (or from improperly operating waste-water systems), such as: E.Coli, Viruses, protozoans, and other Waterborne Pathogens.
Awareness is the best tool to detect a problem with the water distribution system. If you are a city water customer, you should know the location of the shut-off valve to your home, the location of the lateral, and the type of piping in your home. The piping in your home should be inspected for leaks and if any or part of the piping consists of lead piping or piping that shows significant evidence of corrosion, the piping should be changed. You should review the annual Consumer Confidence Report from your water supplier and we would recommend that you clean the aeration taps on your faucets monthly. If you are on a private system that uses a water well, spring, or surface water source, you will need to know the make model and capacity of the pump and motor, location of the collection system, and the components of your system which you should regularly inspect. If you notice wet areas around your "shut-off valve", "lateral", and "distribution piping" and/or you are experiencing low water pressure or discolored water or sediment, you may have a leak in the distribution system. If you are experiencing bluish-green water, greenish water, or there is evidence of chemical scales, there may be Corrosion within the distribution system. If your water has microbial contamination, check your waste-water disposal system too.
Level 1 Testing is done with simple observations that an individual can make with their own senses such as sight, smell, and taste. These observations can be readily apparent or can be observed as they change over time. In addition, accessible related information about the home can also be used to narrow down the cause of your water issues.
Screening for this potential problem requires both knowledge and awareness. You must educate yourself on the components of both your supply and disposal systems and determine which components are your responsibility. In addition to being informed, you must bother to look and take note. Does the drinking water appear dirty or discolored, has there been a change in the water pressure, are there wet spots in the yard or in the general area around the water line, shut-off valve, or distribution piping servicing your home? If you get a monthly water bill we recommend keeping track of your monthly water usage. If there is a significant spike that is not related to a known use, this may be evidence that you have a leak in the system.
The signs of a broken or leaky water line may include:
Level 2 Testing is Do-It-Yourself testing that can be done in your own home using a Testing Kit. After you’ve done Level 1 Testing, Level 2 Testing can confirm if your observations are correct. If your test results reveal the presence of a contaminant that is cause for concern, you can either proceed to determine the best treatment (see below) or continue to Level 3 Testing.
The only real screening method tools would be to monitor your water usage and pressure within your distribution system. If you do not have a "flow meter," consider installing a flow meter and pressure gauge and monitoring the system pressure. Many flow meters permit the data to be sent to a datalogger or computer so you can track your water usage. If you are a city water customer and notice a problem with discolored water or a significant reduction in pressure, we suggest documenting this condition with our Self-Test Web App and photos and then informing your water supplier. If you manage the system, we suggest you visually inspect the system to attempt to understand the cause for the reduced pressure or discolored water. It is important to note that scale formation and corrosion can cause partial clogging of pipes and screens that can decrease water pressure without an actual break in the water line.
<div class="product-note in-L6-bromate">Note: If the concentration is < 0.01 mg/L</div>
<div class="product-note in-L4-methyl-tertiary">Note: Concentrations < 40 ppb</div>
Level 3 Testing is done through an accredited Water Testing Laboratory. With Level 3 Testing, you can order a testing kit that is used to prepare your sample and submit it to the lab. By utilizing a lab, you have the assurance that a certified water expert had analyzed your water sample. If your test results reveal the presence of a contaminant that is cause for concern, you can either proceed to determine the best treatment options (see below) or continue to Level 4 Testing - Certified Testing.
A Level 4 Certified Test Test uses chain-of-custody with a water professional coming to your home to prepare the water sample and then works with an accredited laboratory in order to certify your test results. This type of testing not only gives you the highest level of assurance in the accuracy of your test results, but can also be used as a document in legal cases. For Baseline Testing, we recommend that you use Certified Testing.
There is not a specific test to certify an issue with a broken water line, but there is certified testing that can be done to ensure that, after the broken line was repaired, the water meets drinking water standards. This testing, at a minimum, should include: pH, conductivity, Total Dissolved Solids, chlorine (free and total) for city water customers, and, in addition, Turbidity, Total Coliform, E. coli, and a standard plate count for well owners. If you need assistance finding a certified laboratory, please Contact our team.