Water main breaks can cause disruptions in water supply and are a significant inconvenience for homeowners and businesses, as well as the Water Works team.
“We really do appreciate all of the notifications about water main breaks,” says Brandon Patterson, Osceola Water Works Superintendent. “The best customers are the ones who care about our water scarcity and take action to help.”
One of the primary factors leading to water main breaks and service line leaks is the freezing and thawing cycle that occurs during cold weather.
In times of drought, the lack of consistent moisture in the soil can contribute to ground movement and settlement. When temperatures change, the earth holding Osceola’s water pipes will continue to move and water within the pipes can freeze, causing the pipes to expand, making them susceptible to cracks and fractures, ultimately leading to failure.
This season seems to be garnering more attention due to the drought and subsequent water crisis facing the community. Without significant moisture, or a substantial snow pack, the earth holding Osceola’s water pipes will continue to move as the freezing and thawing of Midwest winter progresses.
“The challenge with water main breaks is that they just can’t be predicted.” said Patterson. “While dry weather and permafrost causes the ground around our pipes to repeatedly flex and freeze, knowing when the next stressor will force a break is anyone’s guess.”
Age and materials also factor into how the pipes react to the ever-changing dynamics. Older pipes are often lead, galvanized or cast iron, which are more prone to corrosion and degradation over time.
On the average year, Osceola sees about 20 water main breaks. Thus far in 2023, Osceola Water Works has seen 16 water main breaks. Water loss from main breaks can be significant, but if caught in time, the pipe in question can be repaired and service returned to the surrounding area as quickly as 3 to 4 hours depending on the severity of the repair. Delays in repairs being completed often occur, as Water Works crews have to wait on private locate companies to find and mark other infrastructure lines (gas, electric, etc.) before they can safely start digging and begin the water main repair.
“In the drought situation we’re in, we have staff as well as contractors on alert for any emergency issues.” said Patterson. “As soon as we’re aware of the break, we have calls out to Iowa One Call to identify where and how quickly our team can safely start digging.”
The team at Osceola Water Works will continue to respond to breaks with speed and try to mitigate any extensive damage beyond the loss of water and work to update the water systems as deficiencies reveal themselves.