City crews battle spurt of water main breaks
With temperatures as cold as 24 degrees below zero and wind chills as frigid as 48 below zero in Forest Lake, Monday was uncomfortable for even the hardiest fourth-season fans.
The conditions were also downright dangerous.
Fortunately, it appears the near-record arctic blast produced by a polar vortex had more bark locally than bite. Neither Forest Lake’s police and fire departments nor the emergency room at Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming had serious weather-related incidents to report.
Independent School District 831 canceled classes Monday and Tuesday, and teachers were able to stay home. Fairview’s clinics were open for business, as was Teamvantage, Forest Lake’s biggest manufacturer.
“We’re up and running, making parts,” Teamvantage Vice President Lester Jones said Monday, noting employees were allowed to use their own judgment on whether to come in. The vast majority came to work, he said.
City crews busy
The cold snap kept one local group of outdoor workers busy. Forest Lake’s Public Works Department responded to several water main breaks since last week.
A typical winter brings three or four such incidents, said Public Works Director Mike Tate. Crews have responded to eight breaks already this season.
The biggest one in at least five years took place last Monday, Dec. 30. A 12-inch main – the biggest size in the system – burst near Highway 61 and Lee Street, leaving major water customers including Holiday gas station, Forest Lake High School, Schilling Plaza and the Woodlund Mobile Home Park without service.
Tate estimated between 300,000 and 350,000 gallons of water were lost. After receiving word of a possible line break around 9 a.m., it took about 90 minutes to get the water shut off as workers were hampered by the ground’s frozen state, Tate said. Failure of a mechanical joint caused the break. The joint was only about 10 years old, Tate said.
Water service returned to the high school by 2:30 p.m. and was back on throughout the area around 5 p.m. that day.
Another main broke this Monday, Jan. 6. About 9 a.m., residents of Seventh Street Southeast noticed water running down the street from a break just south of 11th Avenue. The water crossed the street and ran downhill to the north, then turned west on 10th Avenue. Temperatures were between minus 10 and minus 20 degrees when workers hammered to gain access to the underground pipe.
Tate said he expects the high rate of breaks to continue. Most occur when the ground shifts, he said, so spring warming could set off another surge.
Each break is its own adventure, so workers go prepared with several sets of clothes, boots and gloves.
“It’s been a number of years since it’s been this cold,” Tate said. “Anytime you’re out there with water, everything you do freezes.”
His department also is clearing out frozen catch basins and taking calls from residents dealing with frozen pipes.