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Freezing continues to create water problems
frozen pipe laundromat sign

With frost now penetrating to seven feet, water mains across the state are freezing up and the municipalities’ request to keep your water running is serious.

In Gays Mills, 11 homes and businesses are known to be without running water, according to village officials. Some have been without water for more than two weeks. Gays Mills Village President Harry Heisz believes it is reasonable to expect more mains and laterals could freeze before it gets better.

Why? Well there are two probable reasons.

One - the village can’t be entirely sure where all the blockages are. Some may be on residential and business lateral lines connecting them to the village water and sewer mains. Others are somewhere along the mains. Many of the hydrants are frozen at this point and how far those ice blockages extend toward the mains is unclear. Local contractor John Anderson is working with the Village of Gays Mills, as they try to solve the issues arising from freezing water and sewer mains.

Two – the forecasted warm weather should make it temporarily worse. Once the weather warms, a curious phenomenon occurs. Even as the air begins to warm, the ground's frost is still moving down, creating a lag in the time warmer temperatures at the surface can make an impact on the frost line. That lag can take up to a week to correct. If we get another blast of cold following expected warm weather through the early part of next week, it could exacerbate the problem by refreezing ground closer to the surface before the deepening frost line can reverse.

Soldiers Grove had five water customers with frozen pipes during the cold blast two weeks ago, but luckily they were older plumbing installations that could be opened by heating them. Despite being melted open, two refroze while the water was running through them and required a second thawing, according to Soldiers Grove Director of Public Works Brian Copus.

“If you are lucky, you have piping that is all metal – copper or stainless steel,” Copus said. When that is the case, he said you remove the water meter, make sure the house hasn’t used the pipes for grounding electricity, and then hook the pipes up to a welder generator. It heats the pipe and melts the ice within.

“If the pipe where the freezing occurs is PVC, you can’t take that route. You need a jetter,” Copus said.

The village has placed a jetter order, but with demand skyrocketing in response to the extreme cold, they do not expect to receive it in time for use this winter.

Jetters use a pressurized stream of water to clear the pipes. A 3,000-psi, four-gallon-per-minute jet can thaw a four-inch line at a foot per minute, according to manufacturers.

“We’ll have it for the future,” Copus said. “There is no predicting when we’ll need it next, but we’ll be prepared, just in case.”

The last time, the Village of Soldiers Grove had dealt with a similar problem was in 1977, Copus noted.

The impact of frozen water systems for homeowners is problematic. It means hauling water and using bathing facilities elsewhere.

Water is available at the local community centers and town shops, as well as from friends and neighbors.

Some Gays Mills residents, business owners, and patrons have been using the facilities at the old Gays Mills Community Building on Main Street, which still has running water. Three businesses directly across the street have been without water since around February 12—the Village Greenhouse, Kickapoo Exchange Natural Foods Co-op, and Gays Mills Laundromat.

That’s particularly bad news for the Laundromat, which can still offer drying services, but no washing.

The Village Greenhouse is at the beginning of their growing season, with the first greenhouse already more than half-full of seedlings and young plants for the coming growing season.

“Thank God I’ve got the stock tank,” said owner Joe Brandt.

Brandy is filling a 500-gallon stock tank each day with a hose run from neighboring business owner Albert Zegiel, of Farm Pride Bakery. That stock tank with a submersible pump is allowing Brandt to keep his greenhouse business alive. However with more seedlings to start, his water needs are only increasing as the days pass.

BAPI (Building Automation Products, Inc.) on the edge of Gays Mills lost their water over this last weekend. With 93 employees and an electronic production environment that requires humidity to avoid static build-up from damaging the product they are making, owner Ritch Stevenson has been forced to replace the building central humidifier with portable units.

“Humidity is down to 12-percent, so we have portable humidifiers coming in,” Stevenson said. “We have to get it up to 15-percent before we can test components. We had port-a-potties brought in, though it’s pretty cold, so some folks have been using the bathrooms at the Marketplace, the village offices, and the Mercantile Center instead.”

Municipal water customers should not turn off their water until notified – even if temperatures rise. Nor should they panic about their water bills, said Heisz.

Both villages plan to reference water bills against normal usage to credit residents for water they have run to keep water lines open.