SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (WOOD) — The city of South Haven is working to fix a water main break that forced schools and businesses to close Monday.

The cast iron pipes under Wells Street near Bailey Avenue have been around for over 50 years. On Monday, the main broke.

That led to a boil water advisory for South Haven and neighboring Casco Township. Everyone in the affected area should boil their water for two minutes before consuming it. It’s safe to bathe in the water without boiling it.

South Haven Public Schools closed schools as a result of the water main break and boil water advisory. The 7th District Court in South Haven was also closed.

Water main breaks cause a drop in pressure, which can allow bacteria to enter the system. As a result, boil water advisories are issued while the water is tested for quality. Authorities say tests should be back soon and they expect to lift the advisory within 72 hours.

“Hopefully it can be lifted sooner, but right now I have to stick to that 72 hours,” South Haven Public Works Director William Hunter said.

PIPES ‘SNAP’ IN FRIGID WEATHER

Freezing temperatures like the ones West Michigan has had lately often cause water main breaks.

“What I suspect happened is these colder temps. You have the plowing of the right-of-ways and the streets. You clean the snow and make it safer, which is great, but snow is an insulator,” Hunter, the public works director, explained. “The material of the pipe is so brittle and with the frost, it just snaps.”

South Haven averages three to four water main breaks during the winter months. It has already had three since November.

“If we maintain these temperatures, we are probably going to see more throughout not just South Haven but (also) other communities,” Hunter said. “We have to clear the roads off but unfortunately, there’s another side of that. There’s a lot of utilities underneath those roadways and water.”

He said there’s nothing else that can be done to prevent water main breaks. Upgrading the aging infrastructure faster is beyond his control. Asset management plans have already been submitted by the city but there just aren’t enough funds to fix everything right away. If the city tried to do it, it would carry a high price tag.

“It does come down to replacing it, unfortunately,” Hunter said. “Every community is doing the best they can, like budgeting, but it’s going to be a challenge. We have to push those projects aside because we try to have a healthy distribution that’s affordable. It’s a tricky balance. Our rates would be so high, it would almost be unaffordable.”

Hunter called on municipal, state and federal governments to allocate enough money to help replace the pipes.