VALPARAISO | The last time the city's Utilities Department had to thaw water lines was 2007, but this year they have had to remove ice blockages from 32 of them.
Collections and Distribution Manager Mark Geskey told the utilities board on Tuesday that Monday was the first day crews were not out trying to free up a blocked service line since Jan. 28. In addition to the 32 service lines, the crews also repaired 24 water main breaks during that period.
The problems were caused by a frost line that reached four feet in places, which Geskey said is the lowest level he's seen in his 22 years with the department. Keeping up with the demand for help required 868 hours of overtime as compared to just 179 hours a year ago.
"It's been nuts down there," he told the board, adding they had one case of frostbite and one steam burn. Neither injury was serious and both employees are back to work.
The department resorted to innovative ways to deal with the frozen lines. He said they used to use torches to thaw pipes but that resulted in setting houses on fire. Now they use steam or hot water. The department modified a jet vac truck to shoot hot water into the pipes at 1,800 p.s.i. through a tube inserted into the frozen pipe.
He said some of the blockages were several feet in length, and the longest took 12 hours to thaw. None of the water mains froze, and the longest anyone was without water was two days. The situation has been a good test of the merging of the water and sewer utilities.
"After this, we are without a doubt one team working together," he said.
So far, the cost for overtime and materials is about $90,000, and the department bought over 100 one-gallon jugs of water for customers while they were without water service. The costs of the restoration of the roads, parkways and sidewalks for the 60 holes dug for the work will have to wait until the spring.