A communication pipe is a pipe running from the water main to the boundary of a property to allow a structure to connect with a municipal water supply. Legally, maintenance of this pipe is the responsibility of the water and sewer company, although residents should report any problems they notice rather than waiting for the company to identify them. The communication pipe connects to a valve or stopcock, with a supply pipe to the house running from the other side of the valve. The supply pipe is usually the responsibility of the property owner.
Utilities are careful when they lay communication pipe. They usually want to keep the length short to make it easy to find and fix leaks, and they must also consider other buried utilities in the area, including sewer, electricity, and phone. The pipe is usually easy to identify, as there will be an access hatch to get to the stopcock. Utility employees can isolate a home from the municipal water supply when people do not pay their bill, there are concerns about contamination, or repairs need to be made to the line.
When people identify a leak in their water system, the first step is usually to examine indoor plumbing to see if any fixtures inside a structure are leaking. If the plumbing appears sound, the supply or communication pipes can search for signs of a problem. Warning signs can include soft, marshy ground or puddles of water. Since communication pipes often run under pavement and sidewalks, it is sometimes hard to find a leak until it becomes severe.
Periodically, a utility may need to perform work on a communication pipe or main, and they will temporarily turn the water off. This work can include cleaning pipes, removing blockages, and replacing broken or worn pipes. Many municipalities wait to replace old piping until it breaks or someone identifies a safety issue like lead leaching. Curious homeowners may want to take a look, as they may have a chance to see antique ceramic or wood piping while the utility workers perform the replacement.
If people are not sure about the location of a communication pipe and they have concerns about damaging it or other buried utilities while digging, they can request a utility map for their area. Many utilities also have a hot-line people can call before sinking trenches or engaging in other digging operations. A utility employee will come out by request to flag buried lines so people know to avoid them.