Water main breaks common in these frigid temperatures - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Water main breaks common in these frigid temperatures

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Water main break at Asbury/JFK roads in Dubuque Water main break at Asbury/JFK roads in Dubuque
DUBUQUE (KWWL) -

Cold weather caused a water main break at Dubuque's busy Asbury and JFK roads intersection around 2 a.m. Tuesday.

The break caused some 15 homes and 13 businesses to be without water, according to Dubuque's water department manager, Bob Green. Service was restored early Tuesday afternoon.

The break also caused water to flow into and short out a nearby Alliant Energy circuit box, cutting power to some 3,200 area homes and many businesses for more than an hour early Tuesday morning.

Green said Dubuque sees an average of 70 water main breaks per year, though crews have already responded to more than 20 so far in 2014, thanks to the harsh weather.

"When we have cold temperatures coming in hard and strong as we are experiencing this time of year, then that causes a lot of ground movement and a lot of shifting of the ground quick and fast, which then creates immediate stress to the pipe," he said.

Up until the late 60s/early 70s, Green said, water main pipes -- including the one that broke at the Dubuque intersection -- were made out of cast iron, which is much more brittle than what's used today for water infrastructure, which is called ductile iron pipe.

Spring thaw is another time when cities see a lot of water main breaks, especially when the ground heats up very quickly.

Cast iron pipes fare better in gradual ground freezes and thaws.

The southbound lanes of JFK Road just south of the intersection will remain barricaded off through approximately 5 a.m. Wednesday, Green said, as crews repair and then patch the road. The materials used to patch the road need several hours to cure, he said.

While the water main break means detours for drivers, it meant something more than that for local businesses and homeowners.

Gale Kelley works at Flowerama, which sits right at the intersection of Tuesday's water main break, and had a surprise when she arrived at work that day.

"I just said, 'Well, I have no water here! I don't have water to do flowers, go to the bathroom, wash my hands," Kelley said Tuesday afternoon. "I was supposed to make some bouquets to put in buckets, but I couldn't do that because I didn't have any water to put in buckets."

Fortunately, Tuesday morning's power outage wasn't long enough to raise Flowerama's floral cooler temperature to dangerous levels.

"Our temperature has to stay as certain temperature in our cooler," Kelley said, adding if the temperature gets too high for too long, "it can ruin our flowers."

With temperatures as cold as Tuesday's, crew members working to fix the water main break face the challenge of keeping themselves warm as well as their equipment running properly.

Green said he appreciates drivers' patience as they deal with the southbound JFK Road detour at the intersection.


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