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Prairie City News

Under freezing conditions, Prairie City staff repair water main in 24 hours

Several homes affected by break Wednesday

PRAIRIE CITY — Freezing temperatures and severe wind chills didn’t stop City of Prairie City workers from repairing a water main break this week within a 24-hour time frame.

About 50 to 60 homes near the north central part of town were affected by the main break after reports of water pouring into the streets near the 200 block of East Eight Street alerted public works and other city officials to the scene after 2 a.m. Wednesday.

Jerold Williams, a resident of Prairie City and its former city administrator, said he was asleep when city crews first noticed the water collecting — and subsequently freezing — onto the street outside his house. As soon as he woke up, Williams noticed there was no water coming from the faucets inside his home, an aftereffect of the damaged water main.

Since his home was without water pressure until the main was fixed, Williams dressed warm and drove to his mother’s home on the south end of town to retrieve water for his own use a couple times throughout the day. Although it was an inconvenience, Williams sympathized with the city staff who worked until 9:30 p.m. Wednesday to fix the main and cover the hole they dug to access the pipe system.

“As cold as it was they did a real good job,” Williams said. “They hung right in there and kept it going all day. It’s tough. I’ve experienced that kind of thing before. And it was a terribly cold day.”

The City of Prairie City noted the frigid temps in its public notice to residents regarding the water main break. Posted Wednesday morning on the city’s Facebook page, the announcement stated some areas in town were experiencing little to no water pressure and that the cold weather was delaying staff members’ abilities to repair the break.

Initially, the city expected the repairs might be delayed until Friday. Joe Bartello, the city administrator and police chief of Prairie City, said staff worked on an action plan early in the morning to address and repair the main after valves had been tweaked so the damaged system would not drain too much reserves from the water tower.

By the afternoon, city workers used as much sunlight as they could and were able to break through the concrete, a task Bartello said was difficult thanks to the frozen ground. Crews assessed the damage and determined a blowout in the main caused the hole and the ensuing water to leak onto the street.

“We actually had to cut a section of the pipe out and get it replaced with a new section and get it tied into a new service line that was on there,” Bartello told the Newton Daily News on Thursday.

To make sure no one was out in the cold for too long, public works staff members took turns working on the main and retreating to their cars for warmth. Bartello said everyone was keeping an eye on each other to make sure no one had to be outside for an overly extended period of time.

Bartello explained a bad enough water main break can pull service away from houses tied onto that particular line. Instead of the water traveling to residents’ homes, a break often forces the water elsewhere and could potentially damage streets and severely drain water reserves.

If the water levels are too low in the Prairie City water tower, the city may have to issue a boil advisory, which can disrupt services to the entire community if left unchecked.

“And that is all very quickly affected by a break in the line because that water just pours out of it,” Bartello said. “…I appreciate the staff that we had in there and their willingness to go out and work hard even in those harsh conditions. It was a really good and impressive effort from their end. I was also really proud of the way the community opened up to anybody that was affected with low water pressure, no water pressure.”

Those affected by the main break were allowed to obtain water and use restrooms at the Prairie City Community Building, and also utilize the showering facilities at the United Methodist Church. Prairie City Mayor Chad Alleger and his wife also opened their home to residents in need of water, a shower, laundry or warmth.

Although no one accepted Alleger’s offer, the mayor “could not be more proud” of his public works employees repairing the main in a timely manner despite uncooperative weather conditions. He was also happy to see the community pitching in to help those without water. But he cannot say he was surprised, either.

“It’s not just the water main break, it’s whenever something happens within the community. Everyone steps up,” Alleger said. “If there’s families that are going through hard times or families that need support, people just gather around. That’s why I love living in Prairie City. The community is important. And it’s Monroe, too. It’s the whole PCM family.

“If something bad happens,” he added, “you never have to worry.”

The crews were back at it Sunday when a second water main broke open effected those from Sixth Street south to Jefferson Street and from West Street to Monroe Street. Resident were advised they would have low to no water pressure but crews did have milder temperatures to deal with the break.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext. 6560 or

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