Drought, cold, age all affecting Quincy's water mains, officials say

Mesh netting surrounds a work area on North 30th Street just north of Broadway, where the city is working to repair a broken water main. (H-W Photo/Phil Carlson)
Posted: Jan. 2, 2013 8:31 am Updated: Jan. 16, 2013 9:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Unfortunately, the news is not good concerning Quincy's rash of recent water main breaks.

City officials say there is no end in sight, blaming the ongoing problem on the side effects of the drought that began earlier this year, continued fluctuation in temperatures and an aging infrastructure.

"This is kind of a perfect storm," said Marty Stegeman, the interim director of Central Services.

Stegeman said the drought has eroded the base -- the dirt that surrounds the water pipes below the surface -- which has left them unstable and vulnerable to the continued vibration from the surface traffic on city streets.

The wide of range of temperatures in recent weeks has also created havoc by contracting and expanding the vulnerable pipes.

And, rounding out the trifecta, the city's aging infrastructure only compounds the problem.

"There is very little we can do, except to react (when the mains break)," Stegeman said. "Most of the water lines are between 50 and 100 years old."

Add to the mix any snowfall -- such as Monday's -- that must be removed from city streets, which requires additional time and staff members.

"Our manpower is being pulled at both ends," Stegeman said.

Stegeman said two crews worked for more than 26 hours over the weekend on a break just north of 30th and Broadway, an area that remains closed. Crews were then almost immediately dispatched to another area of town to combat a similar problem.

On Monday, another water main broke at 110 N. Front. Service was interrupted for about seven hours, affecting customers on Front Street from Maine to Broadway.

Stegeman said overtime pay is becoming an issue, but there is little that can be done because the breaks must be fixed.

Quincy is not alone in experiencing trouble with its water lines.

Water main breaks are being reported across the Midwest, specifically in areas hardest hit by drought.

"I have never seen anything like this," said Director of Utilities David Kent, who has been dealing with such problems for more than 39 years.

Kent said he has been monitoring the situations in other areas and the same reasons are to blame -- the drought and fluctuating temperatures.

"Moline had six beaks in one day, and in St. Louis County, they are averaging more than 20 a day," he said.

Missouri American Water Co. spokeswoman Ann Dettmer also placed a large part of the blame on the drought.

"There's not a lot of moisture in the soil, so any movement in the pipes is more likely to cause a break," Dettmer told radio station KMOX-AM 1120 in St. Louis.

Kent asked residents to be patient.

"We have full-time crews doing their due diligence, but most of the time it will take six to eight hours to fix a break," he said.