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Public Notifications | Frequently Asked Questions

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I report a water main break?

To report a water main break or other water-related emergency, please click here or use the e-mail address: watermainbreak@fairfaxwater.org or you can call us at: 703-698-5613, TTY 711.

What happens when a water main breaks?

When a main break occurs, Fairfax Water’s top priority is to return service to our affected customers as quickly as possible. Once a possible water main break is reported, a Service Technician is immediately dispatched to the site to determine if it is a main break and to set up safety equipment.

When a break occurs the crew determines if the water must be shut off immediately or if there is time to notify impacted customers prior to shutting off the water. If the break is causing property damage or hazardous road conditions, the water is shut off immediately. The crew locates and closes nearby valves to isolate the broken main from the water system, closing the valves closest to the break to minimize service disruptions to customers.

Fairfax Water then notifies MISS Utility of the impending excavation so the water main and other utilities near the water main break can be identified. Once MISS Utility has been notified, it could take up to 3 hours for all of the other utilities to be located and marked. Repair work cannot begin until all other utilities in the area are identified so the crew does not damage them while conducting repairs.

After the utility lines are marked, excavation can begin. Construction equipment helps to remove most of the ground above the pipe and a pump helps to remove water from the excavated trench. Most Fairfax Water pipes are buried from three to 10 feet below ground so, depending on the depth, additional measures may need to be taken to ensure the safety of the workers, which can extend the time it takes to repair a break.

Once the pipe is exposed, crews can begin to repair or replace the broken main. When the repair is complete, crews open up a nearby hydrant to flush air and debris from the pipe before reconnecting it to the system. It can take a while for large mains to refill and restore system pressures. Next, the repair crew backfills the trench with gravel and prepares the road for patching. Workers use cold mix asphalt as a temporary patch until Fairfax Water’s appointed contractor can permanently repave the road.  Depending upon the weather and the contractor’s schedule this can take up to a month in some cases.  We appreciate your patience during this process.

We recognize the inconvenience that a main break can cause and we strive to restore service as quickly as we can. If possible, crews will use a hose feed to provide water service to areas affected by the main break. Fortunately, Fairfax Water has fewer main breaks than many other utilities and we repair the breaks and restore service in an average of four hours. But as you can see, repair times can be affected by many factors and it is vital that our crews take the time to execute each step properly to avoid further damage and to ensure the safety of the community and the workers.

What causes water main breaks?

Water main breaks are caused by a variety of factors, including freezing or severe weather, pipe corrosion, soil conditions, age, ground movement, or being struck by heavy equipment. Fairfax Water’s distribution system is relatively young, which minimizes main breaks caused by age. Although the Fairfax Water system is still young, the Board of Directors dedicates funding on an annual basis to ensure that the system can be upgraded and replaced as needed without placing a financial or service burden on our customers. As a result, Fairfax Water experiences fewer water main breaks annually than many other water utilities.

Is there anything I need to do when my water service is restored?

In many cases it is necessary to interrupt water service to homes in the area around a water main break. Unfortunately, interrupting your water service may stir up sediment in the pipe and cause water containing this sediment to enter nearby homes. Also air may get entrapped in the lines. If the water service is interrupted in your neighborhood, you can help in removing the air from the lines and prevent sediment clogs by removing the aerators from sinks and washing machines and running the water for a few minutes to flush your pipes.