Common water line liable to break

By Diane Wagner

The Henry County Water and Sewerage Authority is replacing an estimated 10,000 leaking water lines and officials suggest homeowners take heed.

"This could serve as a reminder for people to check their own pipes for leaks," said Roderick Burch, the authority's chief financial officer.

The problem is polybutylene, a flexible blue, gray or black water pipe used extensively between 1978 and 1995 because it was much less expensive than copper or ductile iron pipes. It was later found that oxidants in public water supplies?chlorine, for example?cause the pipes to scale, flake and eventually break.

"They have a short life span, maybe 12 years, and we're starting to experience a lot of leaks in our service lines running from the main line to the meters," Burch said.

Water lines inside a house are the responsibility of the homeowner. Burch said the authority gets calls every day from residents complaining about broken pipes.

"Those people are aware of the problem," he said. "But folks who have not had a leak yet are probably not aware."

A national class action suit against the manufacturers resulted in a $1 billion settlement fund that individuals can tap, but the ruling does not cover replacements if there has not been a leak. And it does not cover water authorities at all.

"We're asking for a low-interest state loan," Burch said. "Operations is putting together a composite of how many we have, probably about 10,000 or more, so it's a fairly big project."

Plans are preliminary at this point, but Burch said the project could take about two years and cost $400 per service line.

The Clayton County Water Authority completed its changeover program several years ago. General Manager Wade Brannan could not be reached for comment Friday.

The Consumer Plumbing Recovery Center is the claim-handling facility established to administer the settlement fund under the terms of Cox vs Shell Oil et al.

Eligible claimants can recover the actual cash value for damages from leaks, reimbursement of out-of-pocket expenses and, in some cases, replacement of the leaking plumbing system or yard service line.

Burch said water damage is the most visible sign of a leak, but excess water usage is another sign. To check, turn off all water to the house and examine the meter box. If the dial is still spinning, water is still running.