The cold has made it a record-setting year for water main breaks in the Quad Cities, and crews fixing the problems say they are at the mercy of Mother Nature.
“This is the most difficult winter by far,” said Tony Loete, Moline’s water distribution manager.
In Moline, crews have already dealt with 61 water main breaks this winter. Loete said the average number of breaks is closer to 34 or 35.
In addition, crews have found up to four feet of frozen ground under city streets.
“The freezing, or we call it frost, in the ground has gone really deep. Some of the old-timers are saying that it’s as deep as it has been in 20, 25 years,” said Loete.
Loete said that the deeper the frost, the more difficult it is to fix the pipes. When a pipe bursts, water ends up traveling laterally underground and bursting to the surface at a different location where the frost isn’t so deep.
“Right now, it’s very difficult to figure out where to dig and where to find that broken pipe. Typically, it’s a half-hour job on most water main breaks, but what we’ve been seeing lately is anywhere from one to two hours,” said Loete.
It’s a similar story across the Mississippi River in Iowa. Iowa American Water spokeswoman Lisa Reisen said the company has seen 77 water main breaks this season, with 60 of them in Davenport and Bettendorf.
Reisen said that although the cause of the breaks is hard to determine, the freezing ground is likely to blame.
“A metal water main is not very flexible. So, when the ground starts to shift, if there’s a weak spot in those metal pipes, they’re going to break,” said Reisen.
Loete said most of Moline’s problems stem from 1950s-era cast-iron pipes installed after World War II.
“They were designed and engineered with thinner pipe walls, and they break easier,” said Loete.
Crews from both Illinois and Iowa, though, are hoping a warm-up in temperatures might finally mean a break in the action for them.
“We just need to have the rest and Mother Nature’s cooperation,” said Loete.