It’s been a cold winter with January temperatures rarely rising above freezing.
Jeff Foster, Moab’s public works director, has been working with several residents who have had frozen meters or waterlines, or who have been affected by water main breaks.
Foster said that approximately 125 to 130 city water customers that have been affected. Mark Sovine of the Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency said he had at least 75 customers affected in the Spanish Valley area. Both said their staffs have said that this is the worst winter on record that they can remember.
“We’ve talked about it a number of times. None of them could remember a winter where we’ve had this kind of freeze. Some have been here 20 to 25 years,” Foster said.
Even so, as the city public works employees finish another week with several overtime hours, Foster doesn’t want it to warm up too quickly.
“Once we have a deep freeze, things begin to shift in the ground,” Foster said. “If it thaws slowly, it would be the best scenario. A few degrees a week and gently thaw it out. If it gets warm and thaws it out all at once, that’s when we’ll get the real problems. Hopefully it will be a nice slow warm up and we don’t have too many problems.”
The frost line was at least two feet deep this year, Foster said. If temperatures shift rapidly and pipes break, the Moab public works department may have much more work to do.
Foster said his five-man crew has been racking up overtime hours trying to fix lines, thaw meters and get water flowing to homes and businesses that have been without.
“We had one guy that has worked over 60 hours of overtime in a two-week period,” Foster said.
During the first week of January temperatures dropped below zero and didn’t get above freezing once. Those extreme temperatures led to two City of Moab main water line breaks on Jan. 8. The first was near the Pack Creek bridge on 400 East and the other was behind Zions Bank on Main St.
Foster said that his crews were able to keep low-water pressure for the residents in the Kane Creek Blvd. area affected by the waterline break near Zions Bank.
“We were able to leave water pressure to some extent. I don’t think they were cut off completely,” Foster said.
However, the water line break on 400 East required a week-long closure of the north-side arterial street where both the Grand County High School and Grand County School District bus barns reside.
Residents on the south side of 400 East in the Minor Court and Rowena Court area were without water for about a week. The City of Moab spent about $20,000 on a contractor alone to fix that line.
Just as crews were able to fix the first break near the Pack Creek bridge on Saturday, Jan. 12, there was another waterline break that evening on 400 East near WabiSabi that affected Milt’s and Dave’s Corner Market, Grand County High School and residents in the area.
Crews were able to do a temporary patch to return water to the customers the next morning. The following Monday they returned to do put in a permanent fix.
He said that between hiring the contractor, buying additional equipment for fixes and paying for overtime, he estimated his department has spent around $40,000 more than was budgeted due to the waterline breaks.
The frigid temperatures affected Grand County School district buses, too.
On the first day of school after the winter break, five buses wouldn’t run because of dead batteries and gelled fuel lines. However, it was a couple weeks later that there was no water at the bus barn.
Trevor Knutson, mechanic for the Grand County School District, discovered that the bus barn water meter froze after the water was turned off to fix the water main that broke on Jan. 12.
It took a few days for the city workers to fix the meter, due to other customers that had already been waiting for service.
“Even after they fixed the meter we were still down because we were frozen from the meter to the building,” Knutson said.
The ice continued to creep down the waterline “well below the frostline to about five feet down.”
School district maintenance workers dug holes to the pipes and kept heat on the lines all day to melt the ice.
“The city then brought a welder on it,” Knutson said.
The bus barn was without water for a week and a half.
“Drivers couldn’t wash the buses. With all the mud it was really bad. They couldn’t see out the back windows,” Knutston said.
Sovine at the Grand Water and Sewer Service Agency said that his crews are finding more leaks as waterlines thaw.
“We always have surprises,” he said. “We have a pretty good handle on it. The worst is over.”
His agency has been mainly working with frozen water meters, or frozen lines between the water and house.
“We’ve been fortunate. We haven’t had to dig up anything,” Sovine said. “There have been no major breaks. That may change as things thaw out.”
His department has been trying to provide creative solutions to frozen waterlines and meters to try to get water running to homes that were without water.
“We’ve been running jumpers. We may tie in from another meter or run water off a fire hydrant,” Sovine said. “We’ve been doing whatever was necessary to get them water.”
Sovine said that property managers in the area also assisted by moving renters who had no water into empty units that had water.
“Nobody has been without water more than week at longest,” Sovine said.
Foster said that homeowners can provide a better insurance to keep their pipes from freezing by running the water to keep it flowing.
“If we get freezing temperatures below zero, they need to run more than just a drip,” Foster said.
And it he said doing so would add very little to their waterbill.
“We found that if they do that the most impact would be 75 cents a month, and that is running the water 24 hours a day.”
For those who are concerned about wasting water, Foster said, don’t be.
“We dump water at the tanks because the springs overflow when customers use less water in the winter. We’re dumping the overflow down the stream anyway,” Foster said. “If they run the water it is a good thing. It is a good insurance policy.”