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Information about the South Hawley Road Main Break

About the main break

The break of a 16-inch water main in Hawley Road led to flooding of the street and parts of the adjacent neighborhood.

Analysis and Findings

City Attorney Tearman Spencer mailed a claim denial letter Aug. 27, 2020, to residents who had filed a claim with the City of Milwaukee related to the main break.

The letter read, in part: “The result of the investigation did not indicate that Milwaukee Water Works could or should have been aware of pipe failure prior to water surfacing on South Hawley Road, nor did the investigation indicate the piping differed from manufacturer or installation specifications. As such, the City cannot accept liability for the damages being claimed from the December 28, 2019 water main break. Therefore, we are denying your claim.

“If you wish to appeal this decision, you may do so by sending a written statement requesting a hearing within 21 days of the postmarked date of this letter to the Milwaukee City Clerk, 200 East Wells Street, Room 205; Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202. Please include a photocopy of this letter’s envelope, showing the postmark, and retain the original in the event further proof is needed.”

Filing a claim against the City does not automatically guarantee reimbursement from the City. Each claim is examined on an individual basis to determine if reimbursement is legally required. Only the City Attorney or the Common Council and Mayor can authorize payment of a claim against the City. Any other representations made by City employees are not legally binding on the City. 

Click on a date below to view photos taken to document the main break, the Milwaukee Water Works (MWW) response, and the section of pipe recovered from South Hawley Road.
Dec 28, 2019  (25 photos) 
Dec 29, 2019-1 (25 photos)
Dec 29, 2019-2 (17 photos)
Dec 29, 2019-3 (16 photos)
Jan 2, 2020-1 (17 photos)
Jan 2, 2020-2 (25 photos)
Jan 3, 2020 (3 photos)
Jan 6, 2020 (8 photos)

Anderson Laboratories, Inc. Report
As part of the response to the water main failure, two sections of 16” diameter water main were removed from West Dixon Street (extended) and returned to the DPW Field Headquarters. These sections of pipe included both ends of the pipe where the break occurred and a section where the pipe was intact. The pipe sections were inspected by MWW staff using non-destructive methods to measure, mark and photograph areas of interest. The most notable observations were the longitudinal crack along the pipe and pitting on the pipe due to corrosion.  

MWW arranged to have a material evaluation of the pipe performed by Anderson Laboratories, Inc. This evaluation included chemical analysis, mechanical testing and microstructural evaluation of the failed pipe sections and the section of pipe which was found intact.

The results of the mechanical and chemical analysis were the same for the failed area of pipe and the intact or cut area of pipe.  According to the Anderson report, “The microstructure is inherently brittle and would have significantly contributed to the fracture failure of the water pipe.” The samples examined had a high phosphorous content which is not typical of modern gray iron production.

The Anderson Laboratories analysis also reported on the corrosion pitting on the outside pipe surface. According to the report, “This corrosive attack would have provided stress concentrating sites susceptible to fracture initiation.” The conclusion of the Anderson Laboratories report indicates that the combined impacts of the external corrosion and external compression stress on the pipe wall are likely contributing factors of the failure of the 16” diameter water main.

From the archives
March 7, 1960 Design of the 48" water main in South Hawley Road and the 16” main in West Dixon Street
March 23 and April 4, 1961 Construction Reports indicating the mains were installed

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