The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

January 15, 2014

Deep freeze causes city water woes

By Amy Kent Herald Staff Writer
The Clinton Herald

---- — CLINTON — An unforgiving winter has caused issues for many local residents and business, and sometimes made the luxury of flowing water a hard commodity to come by.

Since the beginning of the year, six water main breaks have been reported by the Iowa American Water Co., including the suspected main break at Lafayette Apartments on Friday.

However, according to Iowa-American Water Company External Affairs Manager Lisa Reisen, early reports of a water main break that led to the discovery of a natural gas leak in the complex were debunked, and interior pipe bursts were found to be the cause of the flooding.

"Apparently it was not a water main break, but rather frozen pipes inside the building," Reisen said. "The internal pipes broke because there was no heat in the building, and as the fire department responded, they smelled gas and called in Alliant Energy."

In addition to the six water main breaks reported in Clinton, more than 300 pipe bursts, eight to 15 within a single household, have been repaired in the last two weeks by one local plumbing company.

"Usually this time of year I have a few guys who are collecting unemployment because there is no work until it picks up again," Dependable Drain owner Jeff Crigger said. "That hasn't been the case this year. We've been going full boar."

Some of the repairs that company has dealt with so far this year include minor, one-hour thawing of frozen pipes to six-day projects like the one it currently is working on at Miller Ridge Apartments.

A water main break last week at the apartment complex has generated a steady amount of business for the local plumbing company. The complex currently has cold water running but now plumbers are working on getting the hot water back on.

As for Iowa-American Water, they don't typically send technicians out on service calls but they do work with local companies and city crews to ensure that their customers are taken care of in a timely manner, and this time of year they are quick to the call.

Clinton averages 90 water main breaks between November and March and while a cause is never known for sure, many times weather plays a big role.

"Water mains are not very flexible, so in the fall and spring when the ground shifts due to frost going in or out, the pipes shift. If there is a weak spot, it’s going to break," Reisen said.

When a break does occur water is rerouted when possible to keep customers in service, but sometimes that is not feasible. The first step for Iowa-American Water then is to inform the customer of the interruption of service and then get to the repair processes as quickly as possible.

That includes surveying the area, analyzing traffic conditions and notifying appropriate personnel but oftentimes unforeseen circumstances prevent the company from getting to the root problem as quickly as they'd like.

"It kind of depends on where it's at and how large it is," Reisen said. "Sometimes the water doesn't come up right above where the main is and they need to make sure they're in the right location before they start to dig. It may take five to six hours but it really depends on the conditions."

In the plumbing industry winter preparations are key.

"Water main breaks are a normal part of the water utility business. We know they're going to happen," Reisen said. "Our biggest goal is to protect our employees, make sure our customers don't have interruptions and err on the side of safety, no matter what. We have to take that very seriously."