Category Archives: How Things Work

Cold Weather and Water Main Breaks

Charlotte Water encourages all customers to protect plumbing from freezing weather. Did you know that the water in the 4,300 miles of water mains doesn’t freeze? But, when temperatures are well below twenty degrees (20o) outside, soils may shift causing an increase in water pipe repairs.

Here are a few other reasons why pipes may break:

  • Construction crews hitting mains during groundbreaking, Call 811 before you dig to locate the pipes
  • Ground movement
  • Corrosive soil conditions
  • Weaknesses where two pipes are joined together, that start as slow leaks and can lead to big problems
  • Weight of soil constantly pushing down on pipes
  • Aging infrastructure, this is a national problem and will require huge amounts of money and political will to fix
  • Weak seals.
  • Temperature changes that can cause the soil to expand and contract, putting stress on pipes.
  • Normal aging
  • Surprisingly, even water has corrosive properties and can break down the inside of the pipe over a long period of time

Unfortunately, since the breaks occur underground, in most cases we can only speculate as to how exactly the pipe broke.

Regardless of the reason, we know that:

  • Crews are repairing pipes including service lines, hydrants, and water mains in 100+ locations on an average week and 4,000+ locations annually.
  • During freezing temperatures, Charlotte Water experiences a slight increase in emergency repairs.
  • Public streets may be salted near water leaks to reduce slippery conditions.
  • Lanes may remain closed until temperatures are warm enough to make asphalt for repaving.
  • Charlotte Water prioritizes leaks and water main breaks
  • Before repairs can be made, Charlotte Water calls 8-1-1 (NC-One Call) to have underground gas and other utilities marked (spray painted).
  • To repair drinking water pipes, Charlotte Water temporarily shuts off water to the broken pipe.
    • Customers may experience air in their pipes or cloudy, discolored water after service resumes.
    • Customers should run the cold water for up-to-10 minutes.
    • If conditions do not improve, please call 311 or 704-336-7600.
  • Charlotte Water proactively rehabilitates or replaces pipes that are nearing the end of their life cycle.
  • Charlotte Water staff work 24/7 to provide drinking water and wastewater services to Mecklenburg County and beyond. Call 311 or 704-336-7600 if you are experiencing a water emergency.

Charlotte Water Is The First Utility in the Region to Turn Waste Into Electricity

This year, Charlotte Water completed construction on a system at McAlpine Wastewater Treatment Plant that captures and converts methane gas (a byproduct of wastewater treatment) into a fuel for electricity production and useful heat.

Typically the bacteria used to break down organic materials during wastewater treatment creates their own waste in the form of methane. Up to 900 pounds of this waste is produced per day at McAlpine and is normally used for heating in boilers or burned off. The new facility to convert methane gas into something useful is called a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) facility – and Charlotte Water is the first water/wastewater utility in the state to utilize this system.

The CHP facility produces 762,480 kWh in a given month, which is enough energy to run about 846 homes.

The electricity will be added to the electric grid through a partnership with the local electric provider, Duke Energy. The excess heat will be returned to the wastewater treatment process, offsetting some of the electricity it needs to operate.

A 20-year, zero-interest loan from the state’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund (a federal Clean Water Act program that’s been in operation since the late 1980’s) financed the project. The state allowed for no-interest financing because of the project’s positive environmental impact and renewable energy generation, which made it financially feasible for the utility. The partnership means Charlotte Water won’t have to divert any of its operations budget reserved for routine system upgrades, there will be no additional costs to water customers, and the project will pay for itself in about a decade.

Will We Run Out of water?

The short answer is no, not if we continue on a sustainable path and practice conservation. But what does that actually mean? And how do we know we won’t run out.

Let’s first look into our water supply. Then we will learn how it is managed and what you can do to ensure water is around for years and years.

City of Charlotte/Mecklenburg County withdraws our drinking water from Mountain Island Lake and Lake Norman, both part of the Catawba River and the Catawba-Wateree River Basin. This river basin supports nearly 2 million people with water for drinking, power generation, industrial processes, crop and livestock production, recreation, irrigation and more. About 25% of Duke Energy’s electricity for the Carolina’s is made in the 13 hydro stations on the river basin.


So where exactly is this water going, and who uses it?

where is water going

One of the most surprising things is that Catawba-Wateree River basin loses 204 million gallons/day from natural evaporation alone. You can imagine how much has evaporated during these hot summer months.

A 2006 Water Supply Study found maximum capacity of Catawba River Basin for water supply could be reached mid-century. Thus, a group was formed in 2007 to access and figure out a way to extend the life of our river basin.

This group that consists of Duke energy, who owns and operates the dams that manage the water and the 18 munincipalities is called the Catawba-Wateree Management Group. It is a non-profit corporation working to extend and enhance the capacity of the Catawba and Wateree Rivers to meet human needs while maintaining the ecological health of the waterway. This group was tasked with creating a Water Supply Master Plan.

The master plan identifies the current challenges associated with a limited water supply especially during periods of drought. It also identifies a series of recommendations that could extend the regional water supply capacity of the Catawba-Wateree River Basin into the next century.

Key recommendations of the plan include:

  • Increased water use efficiency
  • Lowering critical water intakes/elevations (via Duke Energy’s management of the dam system)
    • Power Plant
    • Public Water Supply
  • Raise target levels during the summer months
  • Enhance the Drought responsiveness through the Low Inflow Protocol (the protocol we use to determine what drought stage we are in and what amount of conservation is needed to ensure we have enough water for essential uses).

With implementation of the Catawba-Wateree Water Supply Master plan, we should extend the river’s capacity to sustain grown through 2100.

The good news is that total average water consumption for Charlotte Water customers is decreasing .totalaverage

This is most likely attributed to more efficient appliances, smart irrigation and behavior changes.  This along with good infrastructure, financial and business planning will ensure that we have enough water for all current and future Mecklenburg County residents.

For more informatoin about the Water Supply Master Plan visit the Catawba-Wateree Management Group website.

Smoke In The Water

Charlotte Water is smoking…it’s not what you think though. On occasion we conduct smoke testing to detect failures and leaks within the wastewater collection system (sewer pipes) that allow rainwater, creek water and other storm water run-off to enter the system.Smoke testing is a technique where smoke is blown into the sewer system, and the smoke escapes through leaks in the sewers.

We will always let you know ahead of time if we are conducting this type of testing in your ‘hood with a door hanger.

We instruct those that will have smoke testing occur in their neighborhood to ensure that all wastewater pipes have been filled with water recently and that all toilets are filled with water.

Some things to know about smoke testing:

  • Smoke should not enter your home or business unless you have defective plumbing or dry drain traps.  Running water will block smoke from entering your home at these locations.
  • Crews will not need to enter into your home or business.
  • You can expect to see smoke escape through vent stacks on the roof of your building – this is a sign that the building’s plumbing is properly installed.
  • The smoke is white to gray in color, nearly odorless, and is non-toxic and non-staining. The smoke will not leave residue or create a fire hazard.  The smoke IS NOT harmful to people or pets.


So the next time you see one of our staff or contractors with a smoke machine, remember we aren’t sending smoke signals, just making sure that any leaks are identified and fixed ASAP.