Grand County High School students went home early on Tuesday, Feb. 26 due to no water at the school.
High school principal Steve Hren received a call at 9 a.m. from the Moab public works department notifying him that the water would be turned off to allow city workers to repair a broken water main on Locust Lane a few blocks away.
In less than an hour parents were notified, teachers had students ready to go and busses were ready to transport students home.
“We had it together within a half-hour. Ten o’ clock came, the busses were here and the students left,” Hren said. “Ever since 9-11 we’ve had a district plan.”
He said the morning was a good trial run of emergency plans that have been in place after the World Trade Center’s towers in New York were attacked on Sept. 9, 2011. While the school has done realistic lock-downs as per the emergency plan, it was the first organized closure of the school.
“It was a good practice,” Hren said.
He said it was an inopportune time to send students home, as it was finals week for the second trimester.
“Some teachers were giving finals. There were state tests to see what students have learned in programs,” Hren said. “Everyone had to leave, even the staff, till the water was back on.”
Due to health and safety reasons, schools are unable to have children or staff in the buildings if there is no running water.
“We didn’t want to have any kids in the school during that period,” said district maintenance director Frank Melo. “There was no water for bathrooms or even to cook meals.”
Alarms also go off when water pressure is low, signaling that the safety measure of ceiling water sprinklers wouldn’t be able to operate during a fire.
“We had to put it in silence mode,” Melo said.
Fluctuating water pressure has been an ongoing problem for the school this winter. During the first week of January temperatures dropped below zero and didn’t get above freezing once. Those extreme temperatures led to a main water line break on 400 East next to the bridge that goes over Pack Creek near the high school. 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.
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.
“All these breaks we’ve had on 400 East has wreaked havoc. You can see the water pressure fluctuation,” Melo said. “If it got too low it set the fire alarms off. We adjusted it to have more leeway. When all the lines and all the breaks are repaired we will adjust it back to normal.”
Melo said that waterlines froze in the former autoshop on the middle school campus in the last few weeks.
“The heaters quit. The waterlines froze,” Melo said. “When it got warm enough someone found water running all over. A flush valve was broken, it was like a water fountain.”
There was also a frozen sewer line in the middle school cafeteria that was allowed to thaw on its own.
There was no water for a week and a half at the bus maintenance shed.
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.
Melo said that repairs had to be made on the new soccer complex, even before it opened due to frozen pipes.
“The water line had frozen and it buckled the concrete,” Melo said. “The water hadn’t even been turned on, except to the line.”
Three sections of cement had to be replaced and the city replaced the water meter.
“It was so cold for so long, then it warmed up for a few days and thawed things out. It’s been a nightmare, but things are going okay now,” Melo said.
The water main on Locust Lane didn’t break due to freezing temperatures.
Lloyd Swenson, the city’s water and sewer superintendent, said it broke due to “electrolysis” due to an energy charge. An electrical current will weaken the pipe causing a hole.
“If it finds a ground, it will go after it,” Swenson said. “There must have been some clay in the ground and it leapt to it.”
Swenson said that when the pipe was laid in the late 1960s, crews were put in whatever kind of bedding they could find.
“In that area there is a lot of cobble rock from the creek bed,” Swenson said.
He said that they now put in an insulating bedding like sand, which would prevent electrolysis.
Swenson got the call on the break at about 6:50 a.m.
“Water was coming out of the middle of the street,” he said. “We were trying to warn as many people as we could that we were going to shut it off.”
The pipe was fixed within a few hours and full water pressure was restored by 4 p.m.
The city council recognized that the city’s aging water and sewer system will need to be replaced in coming years at their annual visioning meeting held as a top priority at their visioning meeting held Feb. 8.
The majority of the lines were put in during the Uranium Boom of the 1950s and 1960s when the Moab’s population jumped from 1300 to 10,000 people.
Andrus is working closely with the city’s public works director Jeff Foster to analyze the city’s infrastructure in order to create a detailed asset management plan that would allow for the replacement of water and sewer lines over time.
“We’re looking at a total of 43 miles of waterlines,” Andrus said. “The total magnitude of it is significant. If we replaced every pipe in a 50 year time period – we would be replacing 4600 feet of pipe each year.”