Water Main Breaks

What Are Water Mains?

Water mains are underground pipes that carry drinking water to homes and businesses. Livingston’s water mains range from 6 to 16 inches in diameter. Individual properties have an underground smaller diameter water service pipe that connects them to the water main.

Water Main Breaks

As more than 60 percent of Livingston’s water mains are 50 years or older, breaks in the pipes are both unavoidable and unpredictable. Each break brings its own set of challenges. Small breaks are easier to fix, but can be harder to locate. Large breaks can result in service outages cause traffic delays and flloding.

What causes breaks?Excavator digging at site of water main (side view)

In addition to age, other factors in water main breaks include:

  • Installation configuration
  • Previous repairs
  • Variations in water pressure
  • Corrosion
  • Seasonal temperature changes

How do you know when a pipe breaks?

We regularly monitor water pressure at various points in the system — a drop in pressure can signal a problem. But often, the Water Department staff learns about a break when it is reported by a resident in one of the following ways: 

  1. Reports a Concern through the Township’s website,
  2. Calls the Water Department phone number (973-535-7951), between 8:30 am - 4:30 pm, or  
  3. Calls the main number at the Police Department (973-992-3000) after hours 

If crews find no obvious source for the running water, they run tests to help determine whether it’s drinking or groundwater. If it’s drinking water, but no break is visible, the crew uses leak-detection equipment to “listen” for and locate the break.

How do you fix a Water Main Break?

Once crew members identify the location of the issue, they close the valves on the pipe to stop the flow of water to the broken section. This might cause a temporary service disruption to some properties. After isolating the broken section, the crew repairs or replaces it, depending on the type and severity of the break.

In most cases, repairs are made within several hours to a day after the first report. However, repairs on major water transmission mains may require complex repairs that take longer to complete.

DPW employee works on water main replacement

Main breaks that leave customers without water service are given highest priority for repair. When a break is identified, the water is turned off to the immediate area and repairs begin. Though crews work quickly, work can take eight hours or more.

I've reported the emergency. Now what?

When we receive a call or Service Request about a leak or break, we take several steps.

  1. Investigate: When you call, you’ll be asked some questions to collect information about the location and severity of the situation so our staff can respond effectively.
  2. Evaluate:  When a crew arrives on-site, they’ll determine if it’s necessary to shut down the water main. In many cases, the main break itself may already have interrupted water service or reduced water pressure for customers.
  3. Inform: We’ll let affected residents know as soon as possible when there’s a water main break. However, when there are unsafe conditions or property damage, we may have to perform an emergency shutdown, giving us little opportunity to provide advance notice. Sometimes, the presence of a crew in the area and low or changing water pressure are the only initial notices you may have of a water main break.
  4. Accommodate:  If critical businesses or organizations — such as restaurants, office buildings, schools and hospitals — are affected by a water main break, Water Department staff members will work to accommodate them with temporary services as feasible.

Repairing the MainExcavator digging at site of water main

When a water main break is confirmed, a crew will set up a work zone with appropriate traffic control measures. The crew will also turn off the main (immediately, if needed) and call in an emergency utility markout as required by law. Emergency Markouts may take up to 2 hours to complete as other utilities, such as gas, telecom, and electric, must respond. After the utilities have been marked, the crew will excavate and secure a trench and begin repairs. Crews work continuously to repair breaks and restore water service; however, unforeseen challenges can arise causing the process to take longer, including:

  • Older malfunctioning valves
  • Delays marking utilities or mismarked utilities
  • Working around other utilities (gas, telephone, power or fiber optics)
  • Weather conditions
  • Equipment problems
  • Safety of repair crews

Notifying Residents

Notifying residents in the immediate area of the problem is, of course, a primary concern. Sometimes customers will be notified directly via fliers. Information on water main repairs is typically shared on Facebook, Twitter, and the Township’s website. Other times we’ll utilize the Township’s Swift911 (Emergency Notifications) system to provide notification about an emergency. In the case of a serious, widespread situation, the local media may be notified. Residents may be asked to conserve water during the emergency. It’s always a good idea to have a few gallons of water stored away in case of emergency.

In the rare instance that additional actions are needed, residents will be informed directly through one of the communication channels mentioned above.

When Water Service Is Restored

When the water pressure returns, you will need to run the cold water tap for 15 to 20 minutes to clear the pipes. Flush the internal cold water plumbing lines until all faucets run clear, start at the lowest level of your home and work your way up to the highest level.  (NOTE: Never run the hot water until the cold water looks clear. Running hot water can draw discolored water into your hot water heater, which could cause long-term damage to your system.) 

You may also experience sporadic or a pulsating stream of white water from your fixtures when you first use them. This is usually caused by a small amount of air trapped in your plumbing lines and will resolve itself within minutes through normal water usage. When pipelines in the streets are disturbed due to repairs or flushing mineral sediments may sometimes break loose and cause rust or dirty-looking water. The sediments are harmless mineral deposits that naturally occur in water. 

Although harmless to health, loose sediment can potentially clog and cause a pressure loss in some home appliances such as:

  • Whole house filters
  • Water softening equipment
  • Pressure reducing valves 
  • Aerators on faucets  

The following measures are encouraged once the repairs have been completed: 

  • Empty and clean your automatic ice makers and water chillers.
  • Service connections with a water softener/cartridge filters should be run through a regeneration cycle or other procedures recommended by the manufacturer. 
  • If pressure is still low at a certain faucet, take off the aerator and clear off sediment using water or vinegar.
  • Drain and refill your hot water heater if the temperature is set below 113 degrees Fahrenheit. 
  • Water reservoirs in tall buildings should be drained and refilled (as applicable).