The NYC DEP issues thousands of 3-day notice violations for leaking water mains on an annual basis. The big question for most property owners is “how does the city know the leak is coming from my pipe and not another house?”
The noise test
The DEP investigation unit determines responsibility for most water main leaks with a noise test. They use a listening device which is similar to a stethoscope that your doctor would use on your chest. The device is used to detect running and leaking water on the pipe. In most cases DEP will close the main control valve on the pipe which should now allow for a silent pipe as there is no moving water.
If the DEP inspector hears noise he will complete his investigation and ultimately issue a 3-day notice for the property he believes to have a leaking pipe.
How accurate is DEP?
Statistics show that DEP is accurate 98% of the time when issuing a 3-day notice. The investigation and testing is completed by someone with a trained ear who has experience listening and investigating for water main leaks. When performing the investigation if the DEP inspector has any reason to question the source of the leak they will continue to investigate outside of your home.
The follow up investigation may include a noise test on a few of the neighboring water mains. They will also obtain additional information including any loss of water pressure, where the water leak is surfacing and if there are any sinkholes forming under the street or sidewalk as a result of the leak.
In rare cases the DEP will make a test hole in the roadway to obtain additional information if they are not able to determine the source of the leak from above ground. The test hole includes a 3’x3 excavation over the city main and once completed they will close the tap connection on the city main.
If the water leak stops once the connection is closed it confirms that the leak is coming from the property in discussion. It is also common for the DEP to identify exactly what the problem is if the leak is within the test hole. In this case they will not repair the leak but will give the homeowner detailed information on what is required for the repair so they can notify their licensed plumber.
What happens if your 3 day is in error?
If your licensed plumber has begun excavating for your water line replacement and determines that your pipe is not leaking he should follow the standard protocol to follow for a 3-day notice in error.
The first step is to send an email to the DEP scheduling unit notifying that the 3-day notice has been issued in error and the crew is on site with an open excavation. A DEP field supervisor usually shows up within one hour and will confirm that the plumber’s findings are accurate.
The plumber will now close up and holes that he made and is still responsible for all final restoration unless the leaking pipe is in the same hole that was made.
Your plumber should also direct you on how to begin the filing process for your reimbursement with the city comptroller’s office.
When would you receive a 10-day notice?
If you have received a 10-day notice and not a 3-day notice, there are a few variables that may have occurred.
The city issued you a 3-day notice that was not resolved within the required time frame
Your leak was severe and was damaging a neighboring property
Your pipe was leaking directly into another utility causing damage