Latest News

Winter weather wreaks havoc on water mains

water mains

Workers from the Region of Durham inspect the sinkhole which opened up on Centre Street in downtown Oshawa. The hole was caused by a water main break beneath the road which pushed the gravel from beneath the pavement causing it to collapse.

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

We’ve all felt it, that cold that can seep through any number of layers beneath your jacket and chill you to the bone.

Well, Oshawa and Whitby infrastructure is facing the same problem. That cold, creating nearly four feet of frost in the earth, is reaching down to the bones of city and breaking them.

According to numbers provided by the Oshawa-Whitby works depot, Oshawa has seen 21 water main breaks so far this year. Whitby has seen nine.

The most recent, and memorable, is a water main break on Centre Street that opened a sinkhole in the middle of the road outside of Oshawa City Hall on March 2. A break on Ritson Road near Anna Street was reported the night before.

John Tryon, district superintendent at the Oshawa-Whitby depot, says his department is unsure of the exact cause of the break, but it’s more than likely due to the prolonged cold weather.

“As the frost creeps down with all that cold weather, the ground does shift a bit here and there and it does play havoc because the mains aren’t very flexible,” Tryon says.

The Centre Street main is dated infrastructure made of cast iron, compared to the PVC pipe that is used in modern construction.

When the main broke, the water pushed away the gravel supporting the road, causing it to collapse, Tryon explains.

Despite the severity of the damage, no customers were without water as nobody is serviced off that main. It only acts to contain the loop of water piping in the downtown to keep water moving.

“If you think about it as a loop, the water circulates and you use it as required. If it’s not in a loop, what you wind up with is a dead end main, where water sits and causes problems with water quality,” Tryon says.

The break on Ritson affected anywhere from 12 to 18 homes. However, most of the work was done during the day while residents were working to avoid inconvenience, Tryon says.

Both mains have since been repaired, including the paving of the hole on Centre Street.

Last year, Oshawa saw 80 water main breaks throughout the year, while Whitby saw 48 in total. Tryon says the number so far suggests a fairly average year.

“I would say it’s pretty much a normal year,” he says. “We had a pretty easy January and we’ve had a slightly heavier than normal February. So on average, we’re probably right in line with where you normally would be.”

However, he admits the work isn’t over, as more main breaks are plausible before the winter fades away for good.

“We can expect a few more, but they’ll dwindle off,” he says. “The ground shifts back to its normal position, so there will be some.”