City Utilities: Take steps to avoid frozen water service
WILLMAR — Willmar water customers are advised take steps to help prevent their water service lines from freezing because extreme cold weather this winter has pushed the frost deeper than usual into the ground.
“We want people to be aware this is a very unusual winter because the extreme cold has really pushed the frost down deeper than I’ve seen it in my 30-year career, and the water throughout the system is extremely cold,’’ said Bart Murphy, water and heating superintendent for the Willmar Municipal Utilities.
Murphy said frost has reached a depth of more than 6 feet in some places, and the temperature of the water leaving the treatment plants cools from 48 degrees to 40 degrees, according to measurements taken at multiple locations throughout the system.
Customers can take their water’s temperature by running the tap until the water feels cool and measure it with a thermometer. If the temperature is 35-36 degrees, a customer may have an impending problem.
“I’ve measured at my house and it is 40 degrees. We’ve measured it throughout the system. But there are places within the system where it could be colder because the water isn’t flowing as much because there’s less usage,’’ Murphy said.
He recommends a customer who will be leaving their home for an extended period of time to run a very small stream of water from the tap. Other cities in the area are also recommending customers run a small stream of water to avoid freezing water lines.
Murphy said a state industry group, the Minnesota Rural Water Association, recommends customers who will be absent for a day or longer run their water at the rate of one-quarter of a gallon per minute. Customers can determine the rate by using a measuring cup.
He said this will add about $1.71 per day in combined sewer and water charge on a utility bill, compared to paying a contractor hundreds of dollars to repair a water line break either in a city street or on private property.
“I look at it as maybe a form of insurance as opposed to waiting for a problem to happen and having to call a contractor to fix your problem at many hundreds of dollars,’’ Murphy said.
“The other thing we’ve seen is that in some of the older parts of town — what I would call the central core — the water mains that were installed in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s were not installed as deep as in later decades. So those are a little bit more at risk. But I couldn’t speak to any one individual location,’’ he said.
The 13 water line breaks reported on private property and considerably more main line breaks in city streets are greater than normal this winter, said Murphy. He said that’s an indication of the deeper frost and changing ground forces caused by frost.
“Typically it’s been on older cast iron mains that have cracked due to the shifting ground pressures,’’ he said.
“We’re concerned,’’ Murphy said. “It’s an unusual winter and we just want the residents, customers, to be aware.’’