Winter weather, cold temperatures
causing headaches throughout city
Tuesday, February 25, 2014 3:20 AM
"This year is significant," said Chatfield City Clerk Joel Young, referring to the number of water pipe breaks the city has dealt with this winter. In comparison to the number of frozen pipes it has managed in past years, the city has experienced an increase in incidents over the past few months as Minnesota's weather is being, well, Minnesota weather.
Signs are posted by the city on Fillmore Street in Chatfield, informing residents that snow removal will be done between 2 and 7 a.m. Snow removal hasn't been the city crew's only concern this winter, though, as numerous waterlines have frozen as well. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Young stated that because the subterranean frost line has gone so deep and reached city water pipes after a particularly frigid January and early February, citizen action can make the difference as to whether a home still has water service or whether the city's maintenance crew has to intervene and thaw or mend pipes.
"Right now, it is really important that people monitor the temperature of their drinking water," Young said. "If it falls below 40 degrees, they should run a pencil-sized stream of water continuously. As it gets colder, that stream should be larger."
The clerk explained that while city maintenance workers are faithfully on site when a water pipe freezes or breaks, a contractor assists in the repair process.
"The city of Chatfield does not dig - rather, a contractor is brought in to do that kind of work. Since the actual point of the leak is not always obvious, the city sometimes has to employ the services of a leak detection service," Young added.
Once there is a good understanding of the location of the leak, a call is made to locate all the utilities in the area and a contractor is brought in to dig through the street and the frost. While the digging is going on, the valves that need to be operated to turn off the water during the time of fixing the leak are located and, if frozen, thawed out.
"After getting to the leak site, the city crew works with the contractor to cut out the broken length and a new splice is applied to the site. Once spring and summer roll around, the street gets patched back up," Young explained.
He also added that the biggest impact is that people will be without water service for some period of time.
"Once the crew has dug down and found the leaking section, the water system has to be turned off for the repair to be made," Young said. "Not only does that put residents out of water for the time it takes to make the repair, but other things can happen. For example, the stopping and starting of water supply can upset an old water softener or heater, sand can get in the system and clog up a water meter or the nozzles at the faucet, et cetera. A pipe break can be a real nuisance, for sure."
Most recently, city crews had to handle a frozen pipe at the intersection of Prospect and Grand Streets, a near-heroic effort, given the weather while they were working.
"In most general circumstances, I would quickly point to the maintenance crew as a dedicated bunch of people who work very hard, day in and day out," Young said.
This was especially true during the weekend prior to Presidents' Day.
"It was really impressive to watch them and to consult with them," he continued. "It was late Friday night when the first call came in of two homes without water. By about 4 in the morning on Saturday, it was determined that their service lines were operable but still no water, which suggested that the six-inch water main was frozen somewhere in the street. After a number of hours trying to thaw that line, another call came in regarding a different property without water, and within two hours of that call, a water main broke at the intersection of Prospect Street and Grand Street."
Young said, in order to deal with the water main break, which was gushing so hard that the pavement buckled, the maintenance crew called in an emergency locate for utilities and a contractor to dig through the street and frozen ground.
"Just as they started digging, the first of what came to be about five inches of snow started falling," he said. "Once the water main was fixed, it was time to plow snow and, on Sunday morning, start helping people with frozen service lines or helping to hook up temporary services...and then it snowed again on Monday."
On top of all that work, the public works crew was short two people that weekend, Young also shared. That left just three people to handle all that work. One of those three people was also a new hire, having only been on the job for six weeks.
"Brian, Pat and Bill did a heckuva job, and we offer great thanks to Steve Horsman, who willingly stepped out of retirement to help us in a great time of need!" Young added.
Warm weather before last week's monstrous blizzard might have felt nice for sunshine-deprived Minnesotans, but Young observed that it can be deceptive.
"A warm day can be helpful in terms of getting the streets and sidewalks cleaner and more safe. On the other hand, warmer air temperature can cause some people to think that the water problems will quickly go away," Young said. "Because the water temperature is dependent on the depth of the frost and water pipes, once the frost is as deep as it is this year, this will be a problem until the ground thaws out."
That is where citizen action - running water all day and night, contrary to conservation-minded people's consciences - comes in.
Furthermore, citizen action makes a difference for the city crew in that observing snow emergency parking ordinances and good sidewalk maintenance allows the workers to concentrate on water main emergencies when they arise.
"Most people do a good job with this topic. The city's policy is that a ticket gets written to any car that had to be plowed around," Young said. "Generally, the plows go out after we get a couple inches of snow and most snows of that size are forecasted fairly well. This city uses that policy because it realizes that most days do not include a snowfall so, most days, the streets should be made available for use by the residents."
He added that if a policy is adopted that simply prohibits winter parking, the residents would not be able to use the streets near as much, even when there is no practical reason to stay off the streets. "This is an issue everywhere, it seems," Young added.
Sidewalk maintenance - keeping sidewalks and ramps shoveled - is a courtesy to fellow Chatfield residents.
Young complimented the residents by usually being on top of keeping sidewalks clean. "All in all, people do a fairly good job, but I don't think people understand how important it is to keep walks clear of snow and ice," he added. "There are a number of people who really have a tough time getting around, and they depend on safe sidewalks. During a recent conversation with one lady, she pointed out that many sidewalks are OK but the ramp to the street was clogged with snow and ice - she asked that people pay better attention to that sort of thing, because she can't get around any other way."
As for the city's winter budget, Young related that there is little or no differentiation between "summer" and "winter" funds, and quantifying how much more the winter of 2013-2014 might cost cannot be done at this point in time.
"There is really no way of knowing at this time. The city doesn't parse out the hours of the city crew into snow plowing versus lawn mowing versus other activities," he concluded. "Naturally, we can identify the amount of overtime hours that mount, so there is some idea as to the impact of extra snow. For the most part, quite frankly, we are more concerned with getting the work done as efficiently as possible and satisfying the public."