SAWS prepares for another record summer of water main breaks

City-owned utility repaired 7,384 leaks in 2023, expects ‘same or more’ this year

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio Water System expects it will end up repairing the “same or more” leaks as last year when it broke its own record.

SAWS’ aging cast iron and cement pipes tend to crack or break when the soil in which they’re buried, particularly black clay, contracts in dry weather. In 2023, the utility fixed 7,384 leaks - its highest ever.

Depending on the conditions and how they’re able to address the leaks, SAWS loses “anywhere between 16% - a little over 20″ of its total water from leaks, said Patrick Shriver, manager of the proactive leak detection. Other utilities around the US might even lose more than 30% of their water, he said.

SAWS fixed a record number of leaks in 2023, 7,384, and expects to see the "same or more" in 2024 (San Antonio Water System)

Carlos Mendoza, Vice President of Distribution and Collection Operations, said the utility is preparing for more of the same this year, especially as it heads into summer weather.

“What we’re doing is we’re looking at our crews, where we are, where can we better respond to the leaks?” Mendoza told reporters on Wednesday. “We know where the leaks are. We have a lot of leaks inside Loop 410 in your older neighborhoods. The infrastructure’s getting older. Obviously, we need to replace, you know - repair pipe immediately in those areas.”

A SAWS map shows the most common areas for water main breaks. (SAWS)

The utility added more repair crews last year, Mendoza said, and has added other teams to assess the reported leaks before they call out the repair crews. SAWS is also working on scheduling crews so the whole week is covered more consistently.

“The leaks never stop,” said Gilbert Santos, a SAWS manager who oversees repair crews. “They’re continuously here, whether we’re awake or not, or we’re sleeping, whatever.”

Repairs could require just a clamp or replacing an entire section of pipe, depending on the break’s severity.

The utility said most of its new or replacement water main pipes up to 24 inches in diameter are made from high density polyethylene (HDPE) - the same type of plastic used in milk jugs - which is able to better flex with the shifting soil.

When leaks are reported, SAWS uses a triage approach to schedule the repairs. The worst leaks, which cause outages or destroy property, are tackled right away. But smaller leaks may not get addressed for weeks.

At the moment, Mendoza said the utility has 40 leaks on its repair backlog.

“So this is kind of the calm before it picks back up,” he said.

SAWS triages leak repairs based on the severity (SAWS)

About the Authors

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Adam Barraza is a photojournalist at KSAT 12 and an El Paso native. He interned at KVIA, the local ABC affiliate, while still in high school. He then moved to San Antonio and, after earning a degree from San Antonio College and the University of the Incarnate Word, started working in news. He’s also a diehard Dodgers fan and an avid sneakerhead.

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