Recently a water line leak from a private water main appeared in the roadway on 107th Avenue in Richmond Hill, Queens. As is normal when a street leak appears the NYC DEP was contacted to perform a field investigation. The source of a water leak in the roadway can be difficult to diagnose and the DEP is generally expert at making proper evaluations. In this case they excavated over the city water main on the far side of the road directly in line with the main water valve for the house that seemed to have the leak. That seemed sensible, and the tap for the leaking service should have been right there, except that there was an unmapped private water main at this location.
Old private water mains can be difficult to locate
Old private water mains are frequently not mapped or on any city records. There are also no roadway valves that would help to indicate their location. In this case those facts caused the DEP to make three excavations over the city main attempting to find the tap connection – the tap connection was not found in any of the holes. Only then did electronic pipe locating equipment help them to locate an 1 1/2″ private main on the other side of the roadway where the water service line for the house was connected. If the private main had been leaking they would to have found the connection for the private main itself – which was probably also unmapped.
The purpose of building a private main
Up until relatively recently when a city water main was not presently fronting a property a private water main was allowed to be built. These mains were considered temporary until the city extended their main in front of the property or properties in question to allow for water service line connections. These private mains were frequently undersized as they were intended as a temporary remedy for providing water service line connections. However many of these co-called temporary lines remain in place until this very day.
Installing a private water main was a way to expedite having a main to connect water service lines without having to wait for the city to build a main.
Private water mains from years ago
These mains usually were installed without any visible shut off valves, and no inspection process was in place to ensure a quality installation. The oldest of these mains were made out of galvanized pipe, frequently installed when private water companies still services parts of NYC. More recent lines were made out of K copper and had tee connections in lieu of actual tap connections. The lines were too small to accommodate taps, so brass tees were allowed with valves screwed onto them as a connection point to the service lines for the houses.
Over time this type of private main became problematic and the practice of allowing them was discontinued by the NYC DEP.
How mains are currently built
Nowadays when no water main exists for a service line connection the rules and requirements are much stricter. Current procedures call the builder or developer to extend the city water main from the closest available point to where it fronts their property. The main must be carefully designed by an engineer, approved by the DEP, and installed under strict supervision. These mains typically require a fire hydrant be installed on the line. As part of the installation the pipe must be laid on a crushed stone bed, covered with approved sand, and with a filter fabric underneath the installation.
A main line gate valve with an approved operating box is also required that allows for the line to be shut down in case maintenance or repairs are needed. The new requirements for obtaining a water service where none presently exists is a far cry from the old days. An alternative approach is to request that the city provide the main so buildings are able to receive water service supply – if approved the city installs these mains for free.
Properly correcting the water leak
In the case of this water leak in Richmond Hill Queens is was important to have an understanding of private water mains. Private mains can be shut at any time by the DEP if they leak. The DEP does not maintain old private mains, they are the property owners responsibility. Because of this fact it is vital that when a service line leaks that the new water line is connected to the city main.
That is why Balkan arranged for an emergency tap connection to the city main across the street, and permanently destroyed the old tap on the 1 1/2″ private main. The DEP accommodated this request enabling a complete water line replacement to be completed in one day – mere hours after the homeowner had hired Balkan around 8PM the night before.
If the line had simply been replaced to the same old 1 1/2″ main it would have been subject to termination whenever the old private main would happen to leak. Balkan provided a permanent solution that came with a ten year unconditional guarantee.