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Articles in support of small community water and wastewater operators.

Responding to Cold Weather Main Breaks

Recent extreme cold weather has affected a large numbers of private and public water lines across the country, resulting in low pressure, main breaks and water service disruptions, including this one at New York's JFK airport.  During the cold snap over the 2018 New Year's holiday, the St. Louis region alone had to deal with 60 breaks per day, with more than 40 crews out at a time. 

Responding to these events, both the dramatic and the more "invisible" ones, can be particularly challenging and can put utility staff at risk. Here are some resources that can help when frigid weather causes trouble: 

  • USEPA's Extreme Cold and Winter Storms Incident Action Checklist
  • Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation's Intro to Small System Systems chapter section on methods for thawing out frozen water lines (p. 181).
  • Of course, prevention is the best cure, so here is Indiana AWWA's updated winterizing checklist for ideas on how to prepare for freezing temperatures, snow, ice and sleet at your utility and around town the next time around. For even more readiness tips, take a look at this article on how to make water infrastructure winter-ready. 

Need a good public education tool to explain the water main break repair process to the general public? Check out this video from the city of Midland, Michigan showing how water distribution crews handle main breaks during the cold winter months. And here is another example from the city of Arlington, VA.

Winterizing for Water Utilities

Winterizing for Water Utilities

A few years back, we featured a Winterizing Checklist for Water Utilities from the Indiana Section of the AWWA on this blog. As the weather turns colder once again, it's probably a good idea to review their updated checklist for ideas on how to prepare for freezing temperatures, snow, ice and sleet at your utility and around town. For even more readiness tips, take a look at this hot-off-the-press article on how to make water infrastructure winter-ready. 

Preparing for winter weather can be as simple as making sure workers have warm work clothes, but it also means that every precaution should be taken to keep excess ice off your water tower, which can be not so simple at times. And being prepared means taking a look at all aspects of your operation: hydrants, wells/pumping equipment, storage tanks, backflow, emergency preparedness, trucks/backhoes/equipment, worker needs and emergency stock items. 

Wastewater treatment plants have unique winterizing needs. Bacteria critical to the treatment process can slow down, resulting in elevated BOD and COD levels in the effluent. So, keeping bacteria warm and cozy might mean adding additional chemicals or cold weather formulations of hardy cold-resistant bacteria. And did we mention snow? Check out this presentation on how one Maine wastewater treatment plant prepares for winter. They should know! 

Finally, we all know about the neighbors who went away on vacation in the wintertime, only to return to a house with burst water pipes. You can help your community members avoid this and other winter-related mishaps by sharing this video or fact sheet. Stay warm and safe this winter! 

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