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The valves control the flow of water in the pipes. If a valve hadn’t frozen, the county would not have faced a water outage. The main would have been fixed and “no one would have said anything,” Mr. Hudson said.

The system’s some 78,000 valves need frequent repairs. WSSC is also creating more pipeline that adds redundancy to its service so that more than one line can funnel water to residents. The $36 million in funding for that project is expected to last through next year.

Note: An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated the number of miles of concrete pipe beneath Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. The report also misstated the extent of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission’s service area. The mistakes have been corrected.