City workers prepare for water main breaks - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

City workers prepare for water main breaks

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IOWA CITY (KWWL) - We're coming off a cold snap, and that means city workers are preparing for water main breaks. As the ground freezes and thaws, it shifts, sometimes powerfully enough to snap water pipes.

Leon Schlueter, Senior Maintenance Worker for Iowa City's Water Distribution Department, is ready for that to happen.

"We spent time cleaning things up, and making sure we re-stock our big van that we take out on the job sites, and that the backhoes and stuff are fueled and ready to go again, because you never know when it's going to happen," said Schlueter, referring to his Monday morning at the shop.

The yard behind that shop is stocked with replacement piping and gravel for filling in any holes his crews have to dig to access broken mains.

"Years ago, we used to get 120 to 130 main breaks a year. This past year we had 44. So, it's been a down year, and hopefully we can keep going down."

Schlueter credits that drop in breaks with the constant replacement of older piping with new materials.

"Most of the pipe we replace is cast iron, and we replace most of it with PVC piping."

That material seems to withstand changes in temperature better than cast iron. Still, his job carries an element of unpredictability. Combine that with occasional sub-zero work conditions, and some main breaks can present serious obstacles. One of the biggest challenges his department faces this time of year are city street drains that become blocked with sand and snow. When that happens, sometimes water from a main break has nowhere to go, turning streets into ice rinks.

Schlueter's crews work closely with the city streets department, which will close roads if a main break poses a problem or risk to traffic.

If you see water running through streets, don't assume it's been called in. The department's emergency number is (319) 356-5166.

Online Reporter - Brady Smith

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