The winter chill can be seen on ice-capped rooftops and barely navigable sidewalks, but it is just as potent where it is not visible, beneath the city streets.
For the second season in a row, the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities has been scrambling to keep up with a flurry of water main breaks. In its financial summary for the past year, the water division states there were 98 main breaks repaired in 2010 - about one every four days.
But the greatest frequency occurs during the winter months, and David Leathers, BPU general manager, said since the beginning of 2011, the BPU has responded to one virtually every day.
The BPU responded to a rupture in its District Heat service Wednesday. Officials said a break among the relatively new pipeline network is rare.
P-J photos by Jason Rodriguez
While responding to a problem incident, Mike Saar, BPU deputy general manager, said the two biggest factors are the cold and the age of the pipes. Many of the water division's cast iron pipes are between 80 and 100 years old. The aging pipes do not hold up well when the ground is contracting and shifting around, he said, which is normal during the winter season.
At a recent excavation in response to a broken main on McDaniel Avenue, the BPU measured the ground frost, and it had reached more the two feet deep.
"A lot of the problems we've had this year is due to the prolonged cold," Saar said. "It's directly related to how deep the frost goes, because it moves the ground around."
He added the arrival of warmer weather is not a sign of sure relief, because the retreat of the frost in the early spring also moves the soil around.
"It's pretty much the same premise as what you see on the surface of the road," Saar said, adding that the street pavement can noticeably buckle and rise during the cold winter, and during the fluctuations which give way to warmer temperatures.
He said residents in the vicinity of a water main break may experience a loss of pressure from their faucets, but the tell-tale sign is water leaking from cracks in the road or collecting in lower areas of the ground surface. The amount of water that leaks is dependent upon the type of rupture, the water pressure, and the size of the main, which Saar said ranges between one inch and 24 inches in diameter.
In the pre-dawn hours Wednesday, the BPU was called to investigate a leak downtown near Covenant Manor.
In this instance the seeping water appeared on the surface as "a little jet of steam like a tea kettle," which Jim Butler identified as a District Heat pipeline. Butler, who is the district heat supervisor, said the pipe running underneath Cherry Street was buried under more than three feet of sand, gravel and asphalt. It lies among a circuit of pipes that travel the downtown and provide 250-degree water for about 70 buildings. The service is used for heat, instead of local boilers, as well as domestic hot water.
"Anywhere between seven to 12 gallons per minute is what we are losing," he said upon surveying the scene. "We do try to monitor that but we have 15 miles of pipe in the ground. We don't know where it is until it comes to the surface."
He added there was no disruption in service, but four customers would have their hot water severed during the day as the local pipeline was shut. This affected Covenant Manor, Key Bank, Jamestown Savings Bank, and the Lewis and Lewis law firm on Pine Street.
Butler estimated the repair could be fixed within the afternoon, even if crews had to cut out a section of pipe. With the help of an industrial pump, the water and steam was cleared and revealed only a small crack at the joint between the pipes which brings the neighboring building into the main feed.
He said the District Heat pipelines, which were first laid down in 1985, have a good record of surviving the cold winters so far. But he added they are still susceptible to variances in the ground.
At the leak Wednesday, Butler pointed to the misalignment of the Covenant Manor's connector as evidence of a possible shift in the main line that runs up the street.