How Charlotte Water Staff Prioritize Leaks

You walk out your door and see a line of water trickling down the street. (great you think, another leak in Charlotte). So you call 311 or send us a tweet to report the leak. Charlotte Water staff thank you for reporting it and say they will repair it. A few days pass by and the leak still hasn’t been fixed. You wonder, what is the deal?

This is a common occurrence around our city and we want to make sure you understand how and why we prioritize leaks the way we do, and that we have a triage scenario due to the large number of broken/leaking pipes in the city. For more information on why they break check out this blog article on why pipes break..

Charlotte Water has three levels of leaks; minor, priority and emergency leaks.

Minor Leaks

  • are not a hazard to anyone
  • are not damaging property
  • are leaking slowly
  • leak is small
  • the leak is not causing any loss of water pressure to surrounding customers
  • typical 8 week repair timeMinor Leak 2

    Minor Leak 1
    Examples of minor leaks

Priority Leaks

  • are a steady flow that causes attention, but is not causing any property damage
  • the leak is minor but could results in property damage if left unattended
  • surrounding customers have low water pressure
  • typical repair time of 2-3 days; 5 day goal
  • some priority leaks may take longer due to number of emergencies and other priority leaks that need to be repaired first

Priority Leak 1

Priority Leak 2
priority leak examples

Emergency Leaks

  • when neighborhoods or businesses do not have water
  • property damage is occurring
  • it’s a hazard to the public
  • could cause major ice spots in the winter
  • a customer has no water pressure or flow
  • typical repair time 1-2 days

Emergency Leak 2

Emergency Leak 1
Emergency leak examples

Please, keep this in mind and know that we have staff working 24/7 on all infrastructure problems throughout our entire 8,000 mile system of sewer and water pipes. Our field staff are working on ways to mark leaks that have already been reported and are in our system. Please keep an eye out for either flags or spray paint denoting that we have seen the leak.

So to summarize….

Leak Type Description Typical Repair Time
  • No hazard to anyone.
  • No property damage
  • Slow/Very small leak
  • Not causing any loss of water pressure
8 weeks
  • Steady flow that causes a lot of attention, but is not causing any property damage.
  • Leaks in the street that are minor but could result in further damage if left unattended.
  • Customer has low pressure or flow.
2-3 days; 5 day goal
  • Customers/Neighborhoods/Businesses without water
  • Doing property damage
  • Hazard to the public
  • Can cause major ice spots in winter
  • Customer has zero pressure or flow.
1-2 days

Inflow and Infiltration and Why it Matters.

We asked Water Quality Program Administrator Shannon Sypolt to tell us a little about I&I.

This is Shannon

I&I stands for inflow and infiltration. This is when groundwater (infiltration) and storm water (inflow) enter into our closed wastewater infrastructure (sewer pipes).

  • Infiltration occurs when the ground water table rises and water pushes into cracks, joints, seams and older parts of our infrastructure.
  • Inflow occurs when storm water seeps through manholes, or compromised pipes that need repairs or at low lying areas near creeks that are flooded by beaver dams.

Image from http://www.jamestownbpu.com/ww/iandi.php

So why is this bad, its just water right?

Technically yes but I&I increases the flow of water to our wastewater treatment pipes by millions of gallons. This water doesn’t necessarily need to be treated and yet mixes in with wastewater that does need to be treated. The additional flow requires more electricity and chemicals to treat, thus it increases the cost. In addition treatment plants operate more efficiently and effectively when they have a consistent flow. During high rain events, the increased flow can be directed to eq basins for temporary storage but this flow will still need to be treated at a later date.

EQ Basin at Sugar Creek WWT Plant filling up during a high flow event

Staff in field operations,engineering and wastewater treatment work together to combat I & I by checking collection lines for cracked pipes, seals, and other compromised areas that can cause storm water or groundwater to seep in. This can be done via smoke tests, CCTV cameras in the lines and dye testing. Once problems are identified staff perform rehabilitation by relining pipes, fixing manholes, and building relief sewers to accommodate larger flows.

Fire Hydrant Decal Change

Hydrants are part of the water distribution system and an essential part of public safety, public health, and customer service to our community.

More than 16,000 public hydrants are available to be used for fire response, flushing for water quality, testing, and authorized commercial use throughout Mecklenburg County.

If you see a damaged or leaking fire hydrant, call 311 or 704-336-7600.

Starting February 1st, authorized users of public fire hydrants will be required to have a blue hydrant decal on the back or side of their vehicle.


bluehydrantdecalOnly Charlotte Fire Department (CFD), other Fire Departments in Mecklenburg County, and Charlotte Water (CLTWater), are authorized to use hydrants without the decal on their vehicle.

What should I do if I see someone using a hydrant without a blue decal?

Call 311 or 704-336-7600 and provide:

1 – Name of the company on the vehicle

2 – Vehicle/Equipment Description

3 – License plate number

4 – Location of the occurrence

Want to learn how to apply for a decal? Find out here


Why don’t the water mains underground freeze?

Did the recent cold temperatures have you wondering why the water mains in the ground didn’t freeze? Well you are in luck, we asked Gabe Sasser our Water Quality Specialist and Clemson Alum (Go Tigers!) that exact question. Here is what he said.

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) requires water mains to be buried below the frost line or at a depth providing at least 30 inches of cover, whichever is greater.

The frost line is relative to the climatic conditions of a geographic region and is the depth to which the groundwater in soil is expected to freeze. So the frost line in northern states would be deeper than here in the south. For example, the New England region has a frost line of 48 inches (that’s a lot of digging)! The frost line in Mecklenburg County is approximately 12 inches (significantly less digging).  Soil depths below the frost line are relatively constant in temperature.  Positioning mains below the frost line provides thermal insulation to the water line that helps prevent water from freezing within.

During the winter months when air temperatures in the Charlotte area may dip below freezing, source and treated water temperatures trend consistently higher by comparison.  In addition, a substantial amount of kinetic energy is generated from the flow of water though underground pipelines as a result of pumping and customer usage which also aids in preventing water from freezing within the distribution system.  So basically the more the water moves the less chance it has to freeze.



Lancaster Hwy Pipe Repair Updates

Update:Crews successfully replaced the leaking drinking water valve and kept customers in service throughout the difficult repair. The northbound lane reopened Sunday afternoon. The southbound lane reopened Wednesday (December 21st) evening. Additional work will be needed to rebuild road at a later time. CLTWater will update when lanes close / reopen.

Additional information:

On Wednesday December 14th a water main broke underneath Lancaster Hwy near Carolina Place Parkway. This break affected a drinking water valve and fire line connection to a business. This difficult replacement required a special part to be shipped overnight. Staff are working 24/7 to make the repair as quick as possible and reopen the road.

No customers are without water. Crews are installing a temporary valve so that Charlotte Water can maintain water service for most customers in the area. A handful of customers will be served by an above ground water pipe.

Repair Timeline:

  • December 16th– above ground water pipe installed to serve a handful of customers in immediate area. A temporary valve was installed to keep customers throughout the area in service.
  • December 17th and 18th –area excavated and valve replaced. Temporary valve used to keep customers in service was removed.
  • Monday or later – Once the valve is replaced and soil back-filled, crews will start rebuilding the road. Crews will need to dig out part of southbound lane prior to repaving. Repaving depends on weather. Air temperature is required to be a minimum of 40 degrees and rising in order to properly install asphalt. With low temperatures in the forecast this could cause a delay in paving. Additional road work may be necessary later.

Traffic Impacts: Southbound drivers are detoured onto Carolina Place Parkway, turn left on Muskerry Drive (veer right on round-about) to Dorman Road and back to turn right onto Lancaster Highway.  Crews hope to have a southbound lane open late Wednesday evening. Drivers should consider alternate routes like Johnston Road to Ballantyne Commons Parkway.

This repair will continue to evolve due to complexity and weather. Charlotte Water will post updates on Twitter and here.

Five New Ways to Conserve Water at Home

Since 2001, water consumption for an average family of four in Mecklenburg County has gone down from 11 Ccfs (8,228 gallons) per 30-day billing cycle  to 7 Ccf’s (5,236 gallons) per 30-day billing cycle . We attribute this to increased water conservation measures as well as installation of more efficient appliances and irrigation systems.

So problem solved right? Well, not exactly. We can always do more and who doesn’t like a challenge? So besides the usual stuff like not running the tap while brushing your teeth or taking shorter showers, what other ways can we conserve water? We’ve put together a list of five….


1.) Hey guys; plug the sink when shaving instead of letting the water run, you could save 300 gallons/month.

2.) Cook food in as little water as possible, this also helps retain foods nutrients.

3.) Leave lower branches on trees and shrubs and allow leaf litter to accumulate on the soil. This keeps the soil cooler and reduces evaporation.

4.) Wash Fido outdoors in an area of lawn that needs to be watered. You’ll have a clean dog and a watered lawn.

Dogs can get dirty when riding in cars…

5.) Insulate hot water pipes to save energy and water. Remember water is an integral part of creating energy, and energy is necessary to treat drinking water. Conserving water conserves energy and vice versa. Check out our Energy and Water Nexus article for more information.

Have any other creative ways you conserve water? Let us know in the comments section and we will share them on Twitter.

Thanks to the Water Use It Wisely website for the tips.

Getting the Lead Out

In April 2014 the drinking water industry was forever changed when the City of Flint switched the source of their municipal water supply from Detroit Water to the Flint River. That seemingly innocuous change caused lead to dissolve into the drinking water of tens of thousands of Flint residents when managers failed to provide corrosion control measures. The effects of the Flint Water Crisis continue to ripple through cities and towns across America as citizens wonder if the drinking water in their community is safe to use.

A Brief History of Lead Plumbing

Over the years, residential plumbing has evolved with new building standards and advances in material technologies. In the late 1800s lead was commonly used in residential plumbing. Iron pipes were in use as well and were cheaper than lead, but lead pipes lasted longer and could be bent to ease installation. Health officials suspected and documented the harmful of effects of lead and 1930 marked the beginning of the decline of lead use for most plumbing. It wasn’t until the 1960s though that research fully documented the health risks of lead exposure and by the 1970s researchers were getting the attention of legislators in order to restrict lead exposure. In 1986 Congress banned lead in plumbing.

Lead in Water

Lead monitoring is often misunderstood. The first question most people ask is whether or not lead is in our drinking water. In Charlotte, monitoring has shown for years that lead is not in the drinking water. When it leaves the treatment plant and while it is in the pipe system serving homes and business, drinking water is tested for lead and copper. It’s not there. See our monitoring data here

So how does lead get in drinking water? It dissolves from lead pipes, plumbing fixtures that contain lead and lead solder connecting copper pipes. Plumbing in homes is privately owned. Charlotte Water does not maintain private plumbing and does not regulate private plumbing. So we have to operate the drinking water system as though there may still be lead pipes or lead solder in Charlotte homes.

Under that assumption, Charlotte Water manages the water quality to make the water less likely to dissolve (corrode) lead from private plumbing. One of the methods used to control corrosion is to maintain water pH on the higher side of the scale. Chemically, lead is less likely to dissolve into water that is slightly basic. Another method is to keep fresh water moving through the system. The longer water is in contact with lead materials, the more opportunity lead has to dissolve into drinking water. Utilities across the country use a variety of techniques to control corrosion of metals like lead and copper.

Chances for Plastic Pipes Are Good

Back to our history lesson, lead was on the decline in the 70s and banned by 1986. Seventy-five percent of homes in Mecklenburg County were built after 1980. Sixty percent of homes were built after 1990. The odds are that most homes today don’t have and never had lead pipes or lead solder. Also, pipes have a life span. Anything really old has likely been replaced already. As of January 2014 revisions to the Safe Drinking Water Act made it illegal to install and pipe, or plumbing fitting or fixture, any solder, or any flux, during the installation or repair of a public water system or customer’s drinking water plumbing unless it meets the following definition of “lead-free”:

  • not containing more than 0.2 percent lead when used with respect to solder and flux; and
  • not more than a weighted average of 0.25 percent lead when used with respect to the wetted surfaces of pipes, pipe fittings, plumbing fittings, and fixtures.

Even so, when Charlotte Water crews encounter remnant lead materials in the public water system, they are immediately removed and replaced. Last year, during the course of fixing a water main break, crews found a handful of gooseneck pipes. A gooseneck pipe is a connector pipe about 2’ to 3’ long made of lead.

Lead Gooseneck

Because they could be shaped quite easily, gooseneck pipes were used to connect straight service lines to straight water mains.

In a Nutshell

So to recap:

  • No lead in drinking water, if lead is present it’s coming from plumbing.
  • Lead pipes are unlikely.
  • Even if lead pipes are present, Charlotte Water manages corrosion to reduce lead dissolving into water.

Still Not Convinced

There are some things you can do to better understand your specific risk.

  1. Know what year your home was built. If it was after 1986, your risk is almost nothing.
  2. Know when your plumbing was replaced. If it was after 1986, your risk is almost nothing.
  3. Know the material of your pipes including the service line from the meter to your home. Look under the sinks and in the meter box. If it is HDPE, PVC, iron, copper, etc., your risk is almost nothing. Learn more about finding out if you have lead pipes in your home here
  4. Know how long water sits in your plumbing. Keep fresh water in your pipes. Flush taps for a couple of minutes after water has sat for a few hours. If water is used frequently, your risk is low.
  5. Know the water quality at your home. If you suspect that you have lead plumbing materials, call Charlotte Water at 311 to have your water tested for free.