Winter wreaks havoc on water service


By Elisabeth Waldon • Last Updated 11:38 am on Thursday, March 06, 2014

A water main 8 inches in diameter froze last week on Henkel Road in Howard City. — Courtesy photo

Mike VanWagner has been Howard City’s director of municipal services for 20 years and he’s never seen a village water main freeze … until this winter.

A water main 8 inches in diameter froze last week on Henkel Road on the south end of Howard City. Fortunately, the freeze only affected two users. Village workers were able to run a water line to the nearby Renaissance Hair Salon, which still had water, so the users would have access to water. Montcalm Community College’s Howard City facility, next door to the hair salon, lost water as well, so village workers ran another line from the college facility to the hair salon.

VanWagner said the frost on Henkel Road goes down at least six feet into the ground, two feet more than the typical four-foot average. He contacted municipalities much larger than Howard City, as well as companies that serve those municipalities for advice.

“There’s really nothing you can do about it unless you want to spend a lot of money digging it up,” he concluded. “There actually is no fix except warm weather.”

And warm weather continues to remain a far-off dream, as far as the local weather forecast goes. Another water line underneath White Street froze Wednesday morning in Howard City.

“It’s a little unusual,” VanWagner summarized of this year’s winter. “The unusual part is if we went out in the middle of our yard and moved some snow, we could dig up dirt with a shovel, since the snow insulates the ground and keeps the frost from going so deep.”

And so, Howard City officials have joined other officials in Belding, Lakeview and Stanton in asking residents to keep a pencil-sized stream of water continuously running throughout March to help prevent pipes from freezing.

James Freed, who is the city manager of Stanton and village manager of Lakeview, said three homes in Lakeview and two homes in Stanton lost water recently due to service lines freezing on the homeowner’s property. In Stanton, city workers were able to connect bypass lines from those homes to neighboring homes to ensure residents had access to water. The cost of a bypass line is $100 to $150.

“It costs money, but it’s a lot better than being without water,” Freed said.

Two sewer lines in Stanton and one in Lakeview also recently froze up, something Freed has never seen in either town before.

“People flush their toilet and the water freezes on the way to the main,” he said.

Parker Septic Services of Six Lakes was called into both towns to shoot steam into the main and break up the frozen sewer lines.

Like Howard City, Lakeview and Stanton residents are also being asked to keep a pencil-sized stream of water running in their homes. Freed said residents will not be charged extra for running the extra water, but will only be charged based on their average water bill.

“We thought it was better to take precautions and let the water run,” Freed said. “Not only does it help prevent the village’s water main from freezing, but it also helps the homeowners.

“It’s crazy,” he added of the ongoing cold weather. “No one’s ever seen the frost this deep. The temps this winter have been insane.”

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