Water Main Break Sparks Concern About Wichita's Aging Pipes

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — The major water line break that forced residents of Kansas' largest city to boil their water before using it for several days highlights concerns about Wichita's aging infrastructure.

The water main break that forced the boil order last week happened after the city's water plant lost part of its power supply, so the pumps sending water throughout the system automatically shut down. The boil order was lifted for Wichita Saturday.

“That was an abrupt shutdown,” Director of Public Works and Utilities Alan King said. “When we brought the pressure back up and to pressurize the system, that was a rapid decrease in pressure (followed by) a rapid increase in pressure, and both of those are not friendly to pipes, especially older pipes. “So what we think is that pressure changes caused the rupture of the pipe.”

The Wichita Eagle reports that a 2017 assessment found 99% of Wichita’s water treatment plant was in poor condition and the entire raw water pipe system was in very poor condition. Recent reports have said Wichita’s water supply needs hundreds of millions of dollars in investments and near-constant repair and replacement.

The city is aware of the fragile state of its water supply and has budgeted $10 million a year in its most recent capital improvements plan for repairs, replacements and maintenance of distribution lines, like the one that broke Thursday.

A new water plant that is under construction will help the situation but it won't be ready until 2024 at the earliest.