Deep frost takes toll on Willmar water mains
WILLMAR — There haven’t been any water main breaks in the streets of Willmar this week.
“A very pleasant surprise,’’ says Bart Murphy, water and heating superintendent for the Willmar Municipal Utilities.
The utility’s water department has had to repair an unusually large number of water main breaks this winter because extreme cold weather pushed frost deeper than usual into the ground.
The frost depth varies. In February, Murphy reported frost had reached a depth of more than 6 feet in some places. Recently, the frost was measured at about 3½ feet at two water main break locations.
So far this winter, there have been 22 water main breaks, compared with about 10 in a normal winter.
The public notifies the utility when the break occurs and a utility employee must turn off the water at the break.
The utility calls a contractor to excavate and have the break repaired. The utility has a yearly agreement with Quam Construction of Willmar to do maintenance on water main breaks on an on-call basis.
“That’s part of what the water department does is fix those,’’ Murphy said Friday.
Repair costs have risen, too. The utility budgets a certain amount of money every year for water main break repairs.
“And I would guess we have exceeded the entire year’s budget already,’’ he said.
The situation appears to be improving, however. Murphy measured the temperature of the water in the system and said it has risen from 40 degrees in February to 45 degrees.
“So that’s a big change,’’ he said. “Things are looking better.’’
Murphy advised property owners two months ago if they were leaving their homes for an extended period to run a trickle of water to help keep the line from freezing.
Murphy said he has not heard of many water line breaks on private property. One incident that came to mind was a broken water line not long ago next to the entrance at McMillan’s Restaurant.
“Usually we would hear because they have to call in locates and we see those locates,’’ he said.