The Portland Water District has repaired five water main breaks in two days, a consequence of the 50-degree temperature swing this week.

Portland started the week with a record-setting 12 degrees below zero at the Portland International Jetport on Sunday morning, breaking the 77-year-old mark for Jan. 7 by 2 degrees. Portland started the week at 12 below zero on Sunday morning, breaking the 77-year record for the lowest temperature recorded. By Thursday, temperatures reached the mid-40s.

Michelle Clements, spokesperson for the Portland Water District, said the fluctuating weather has strained the area’s aging infrastructure. Frost has reached 3 to 3½ feet into the ground, just above water pipes that are buried 5 to 5½ feet deep.

Foreman Greg Krummell, left, and Chris Stevens of Shaw Brothers Construction bury a new section of water main on Windham Center Road at the bridge over the Pleasant River on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

The district has had eight water main breaks so far in January. In the same period last year, there were four.

“When the frost penetrates or recedes, it puts added pressure on the water mains,” Clements said. “They can break.”

On Wednesday, a broken water main in Windham shut down Windham Center Road and washed out ground near the Pleasant River Bridge. Water service was restored to the main the next day, but rebuilding that ground and testing the bridge’s safety has prolonged the repair. Windham police said that it could take until Monday to reopen the road, depending on how weather impacts necessary repairs.

Also on Wednesday, crews responded to a break on Virginia Street in Portland.

Then, on Thursday, the district responded to three breaks on Clifford Street and Belmead Road in Portland and on Broadway in South Portland.

The impact on customers has been minimal. Sanford Prince, superintendent of RSU 14, said the break in Windham affected water in the school buildings, but service had been restored by 9:15 a.m. Wednesday. Officials anticipated 30 affected customers in South Portland would have water restored by Thursday evening. The district reported no other customers lost service during the breaks.

Workers seal and bury a new section of water main. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

But Clements said district crews have been stretched thin by the volume of calls. Outside contractors were hired to help with the repairs.

“We don’t have the manpower to be on six or seven main breaks at the same time,” she said.

Still, Greater Portland averaged seven water main breaks last year for each hundred miles of pipe. That is below the American Waterworks Association’s benchmark of 25 to 30 breaks per 100 miles of pipe per year.

The number of breaks in 2017 was 71, a significant decline from years past. In 2016, there were 97 breaks. In 2015, there were 113.

Workers for Shaw Brothers Construction seal and bury a new section of water main on Windham Center Road on Thursday. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

The area’s brittle cast iron pipes are currently being replaced with newer, ductile iron pipe. In 2011, the district spent $2.5 million annually on pipe replacement. In more recent years, however, that budget has more than doubled. In 2014, it was $6 million. This year, it is $7 million.

Clements said about 460 miles of the district’s 1,000 miles of pipe are still cast iron and range between 50 to 140 years old. Of the water mains that broke this week, the oldest dated to 1886 on Clifford Street in Portland. The newest – a cast iron pipe from 1969 – was in Windham.

“Certainly, that’s not an old pipe in pipe terms,” Clements said.

Staff Writer Gillian Graham contributed to this report.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: megan_e_doyle