This winter’s cold temperatures are making water main repairs difficult for Creston Water Works employees.
Since Dec. 1, Creston has experienced 15 breaks in their water mains. The culprit — a combination of corroding pipes and deep, penetrating soil frost.
“In 24 years, this is the deepest I have seen (the frost),” said Rick Reed, Creston Water Works distribution manager.
Reed said, in some places, the frost reaches approximately 48 to 60 inches below the surface.
Reed said the lack of moisture in the soil because of last summer’s drought mixed with cold winter temperatures has compounded the problem.
“When the ground is dry, it tends to pull away from the pipes and doesn’t support them as well,” said Reed.
The cost of a water main break varies greatly depending on the amount of water loss and the size of the break.
In December, a 12-inch water main broke near uptown Creston, causing the water levels in the tower near the business district to drop 12 feet. By the time crews were able to repair the break, “a couple hundred thousand” gallons were lost, according to Creston Water Works General Manager Steve Yarkosky.
Yarkosky said the break cost nearly $10,000 in repairs and water loss.
“That cost a lot of man hours and was very labor intensive,” said Yarkosky.
However, not all water main breaks cost the same. Sometimes, workers are able to solve the problem by placing a clamp over the leak. Other times, large pipes are cut and replaced. Also, some breaks are a slow leak, while others result in a more rapid water loss.
Frost that reaches depths of 4 to 5 feet pose a problem for the city, because some of Creston’s water mains are as shallow as 3 feet. Many of these shallow mains are the older and more fragile, cast iron pipes.
Reed said, the reason for shallow mains is because of the city’s expansion over time. As land for new roads or structures are leveled, soil is removed from the surface. So, for a main that was once 10 feet deep is now much closer to the surface.
As a preventative measure, Creston Water Works staff has budgeted for upgrades to the 90 miles of water mains running through the ground in Creston.
“To date, Creston Water Works is very aggressive in doing just that,” said Yarkosky. “As time goes on, more and more will be replaced.”
Yarkosky said approximately 50 percent of the water mains have been replaced with PVC and some with ductile iron, which provide a little more give to handle the ground as it contracts and water surges.
“Someday we will have 100 percent replaced, but, it takes a lot of time and a lot of money,” said Yarkosky. “From an infrastructure standpoint, you budget and plan and try to do some every year.”
Creston Water Works staff prioritizes preventative maintenance based on the history of the water mains, how many breaks have occurred in various areas, number of homes potentially affected and making sure adequate water flow is provided for fire protection.
And, the improvements Creston Water Works is making may be helping.
Yarkosky said, the average number of water main breaks for the previous five years is 24 annually. In 2013, 28 water main breaks occurred — greatly reduced from the 49 water main breaks that happened in 2012.
Residents can help by reporting any water seepage or “anything unusual” to Creston Water Works from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday by calling (641) 782-5817. To report a suspected break after hours, contact the Union County Law Enforcement Center at (641) 782-8402.