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Billings sees 10 water main breaks in less than a week; homeowners urged to be prepared

Water main break on Tuesday
Posted at 8:53 AM, Jan 11, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-11 10:53:29-05

BILLINGS — Pipe problems and water woes.

The city of Billings has experienced 10 water main breaks since Sunday. With the cold weather snap about to hit the area, the city's Public Works Department fears it's just the start.

Billings homeowners are getting prepped and ready.

"Weather strip around your doors and make sure the windows are sealed up pretty well,” said Vern Brost, a Billings homeowner, on Wednesday. "That's the main thing."

Vern Brost
Vern Brost

Brost has lived in Billings for 30 years.

"Billings is a good place to live,” Brost said.

He knows a thing or two about home maintenance.

"I worked at Billings Hardware, the one that closed on Grand, for 19 years and then retired,” said Brost.

On Tuesday, Brost awoke to a surprise.

"Wife woke me up, she couldn’t make coffee in the morning,” Brost said with a laugh. "I called a neighbor across the street and said, ‘Do you guys have water?’ And he said, ‘Nope. We don’t.’ He said, ‘We’ve got a couple bottles.'"

A water main break off of Rimrock Road on Fairway Road early Tuesday morning caused problems for area residents.

Crews working to fix the break
Crews working to fix the break

"They were on it pretty quick,” Brost said. "It was not pretty."

Brost says water was shut off in his neighborhood until around 9:30 a.m., with the city telling MTN they had crews in the area around 3 a.m. working to fix the break.

"An 8-inch cast iron water main from 1951 broke," said Scott Emerick, the superintendent of collections and distribution for the City of Billings Public Works, on Wednesday. "Flooded out on that hillside and part of Rimrock Road."

Emerick says Tuesday’s break was just the tip of the iceberg.

"That was one of about 10 that we’ve experienced so far since Sunday. They’re scattered all over. There’s no rhyme or reason to it,” Emerick said.

Scott Emerick
Scott Emerick

The reasons behind the influx: a mix of aging infrastructure and fluctuating temperatures.

"We have some that are dated back," said Emerick. "I know one of our guys excavated one that was prior to 1900 over here on the South Side. So we do have some that are quite old."

Emerick says the city sets aside around $5 million a year for water main repairs.

"Every year we do an annual replacement water main project, and that will encompass some of these areas that are dated and have a lot of maintenance or water leak history,” Emerick said. "We anticipate it’s probably going to get busier as the weekend and the weather progresses."

But this is just the start of repairs as Old Man Winter finally arrives in Billings.

Winter weather in Billings
Winter weather in Billings

This means homeowners need to be prepared.

“If you have any drafts in your home, try to get those sealed up. Know where your shut-off valve is below your meter so that you can shut your own water off if you do have a failure or something. And you don’t have to call us,” Emerick said. “If you do have an older house that’s maybe drafty, might not hurt to leave a faucet drip. Let it run a little bit. Just to minimize the chance of freezing up."

Brost has one more tip from a personal experience to share.

"Make sure that your hose is disconnected. Filled my basement once. I didn’t know that it was broken,” Brost said while laughing.

Water main break on Tuesday
Water main break on Tuesday

And if you do see utility workers out making repairs, make sure to share the road.

"Please slow down and try to accommodate the traffic control," Emerick said. "People need to watch out for our guys."

To learn more about Tuesday's water main break, click here.