Repair uncovers century-old pipe — and Louisville Water’s infrastructure investments

While repairing a recent main break, a crew uncovered a 100-year-old piece of Louisville Water’s history — one that reflects the company’s long commitment to pipe maintenance and infrastructure investment to ensure reliable service.

The break was in a 20-inch diameter main near the intersection of South Eighth Street and West Mahammad Ali Boulevard. When the crew members uncovered the pipe, a date was clearly visible: 1922.

This is the date the pipe was manufactured. Louisville Water records show the main was installed in 1926, so it has been serving the company’s customers for nearly a century.

According to Louisville Water’s 1926 Annual Report, the final work involved in installing the Eighth Street main was completed in February and March of that year. “This line cross-connects the thirty-inch main in Broadway with the twenty-inch main in Main Street, an important addition to the gridiron system,” the report said.

To help keep its grid of pipes in good shape, Louisville Water launched the Main Replacement and Rehabilitation Program (MRRP) in the mid-1980s, and this program is still going strong. Information on the history of each water main — including the number of breaks and leaks — is reviewed to decide the best course of action to ensure water quality.

Maintaining the mains

Through the MRRP, maintenance work on Louisville Water’s system includes:

  • Replacement of high-maintenance water mains
  • Rehabilitation of structurally sound mains by cleaning and cement-mortar lining
  • Installation of grid connections on dead-end or poorly circulating mains
  • Abandonment of unlined mains that parallel existing mains

According to Louisville Water Construction Inspector Dennis Pike, the Eighth Street main was cleaned and lined with concrete in 1986 or 1987.

“The pipe, when originally installed, did not have a concrete lining in it,” Pike said. “Louisville Water scraped all the cast iron deposits out of the pipe and then used a specialized machine to spray and smooth out a quarter-inch concrete lining.”

Although the pipe ultimately broke (probably because of settling, Pike said), the relining process likely extended the life of the main for decades, and the increasing rarity of uncovering older mains points to the success of the MRRP.

In other words, though main breaks are inevitable for any water utility, Louisville Water has been able to significantly reduce the number of ruptures over the years because of its focus on proactively repairing and replacing pipes throughout its system. Last year alone, Louisville Water invested more than $25 million in the MRRP.

Continuing the investment

The 1926 Annual Report noted that Louisville Water had 533.98 miles of pipe at the end of that year. Today, the system includes more than 4,200 miles. About 200 miles are pipes larger than 20 inches in diameter (transmission mains). The rest have a diameter of 16 inches or smaller (distribution mains).

Continued investment in this infrastructure is a focus in Louisville Water’s 2022 budget. More than $80 million dollars is earmarked for maintenance and upgrades, including more than 30 projects to replace older, smaller-diameter mains as well as replacing one of Louisville Water’s largest and oldest pipes as part of the Frankfort Avenue Main Replacement Project.

“Annual investments in infrastructure are important to maintain reliable service,” said President and CEO Spencer Bruce. “Louisville Water’s history of proactively taking care of the more than 4,000 miles of water main is considered a national model.”