SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- Employees of the Portland Water District are investigating what has caused a rash of water main breaks in South Portland. In the past week there have been five water mains in a small section of the city, which have caused damage to roads and property.
"We have, on average, about 100 water main breaks a year," explained Michelle Clements, a spokeswoman with the water district. "We have had a few in South Portland recently, so we are investigating to see if something unusual is happening or if they are potentially related."
On thursday night, a large 12 inch water main burst underneath Broadway, sending water rushing into nearby homes and businesses.
"It was about 6 o'clock. Actually, it took me by surprise because the water was starting to flow like a river out beside my restaurant, I happened to see a fire fighter that I know and he says 'Tom, we're shutting her down', and as he said that, water started coming up through the drains," recalled Tom Howard, owner of JP Thorton's deli, bar and restaurant.
Water quickly flooded his establishment, sending patrons packing and causing extensive damage.
"I actually thought we'd be back in business today, to be honest with you, but this is going to be a long process," he stated. "The restaurant took a lot of damage. I have carpets, the walls all got destroyed, so that is going to be a while over there."
Howard is not only concerned what being closed for a few weeks while his business is repaired will do to his bottom line, but also how it will impact his employees.
"I've got 45 employees here at JP's, that's the tough part, because I don't want to lose these guys, and I am hoping my insurance, which I really haven't found out yet, I can get some insurance so I can keep my crew together," he said. "I'd hate to lose them, but we'll do the best we can, we'll hang in there and do what we have to do."
According to the Portland Water District, extreme cold and frost are among the biggest culprits when it comes to water main breaks, but that is not a factor this time of year. Clements says acidic soils can eat at the pipe causing it to fail, water pressure can change and even heavy vehicles traveling overhead can cause pipes to break.
Right now, investigators are not sure what is causing the problem.
"It is unusual enough that we are looking in to it to see if there is potentially a relationship," stated Clements.
She says the water district replaces a couple miles of pipe each year, and is using new materials and wrapping pipes with protective sleeves to help alleviate some of the problems, but with 1000 miles of pipe to maintain, some of which is more than 100 years old, they can only do so much to improve the system.