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Frozen Water Pipe Battle Not Improving Yet in One Linn County Community

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CENTRAL CITY, Iowa- The frozen water pipe fight is not improving in the Linn County community of Central City. In fact, an estimated 45 water customers in that community of 1,250 people have called in to the city to report no water due to frozen pipes. That's almost 10 percent of all the water customers in the city.

Things have reached the point that as of Thursday morning, the Central City School District set up a community shower facility at the high school. Anyone who has water problems is invited to use the high school's main gym shower and bathroom facilities from 7:30 a.m. until 8:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. School officials said a district custodian proposed opening the schools to the community at large due to the water issues. No one showed up Thursday morning, probably because not enough people without water had heard of the offer yet. But the school is expecting at least some in the community to use the facilities as the battle with underground frost and frozen pipes continues.

Some in the community are on their third week without any water in their homes.

One of those unfortunate residents is Genny Welsh who lost water almost three weeks ago. Welsh said living at home, without water, during the ongoing cold spell is sort of like camping out inside every day. She goes to the store to buy drinking water and shovels snow in her yard into buckets to bring inside to melt. Welsh uses the melted snow to flush her toilets.

She'd waited weeks for someone to try to thaw her pipes and plumber Glen Wickman was finally on the job Thursday morning.

"I thought if there were families that need it worse--that was ok. I'm here by myself so I can get along," Welsh said.

Wickman said contractors and plumbers are trying different methods to thaw out pipes and restore service. He pumps hot water into the home system through a rubber hose. The idea is to keep poking at the ice inside the lines with the hose and hot water until he melts the ice blocking the line. Wickman said it doesn't always work and his success rate is probably about 75 percent.

Other contractors have tried digging in yards to reach and then warm up the frozen section of water pipes. But that doesn't always work either.

Central City maintenance workers have tried to fix frozen water mains under the streets. But the lines between the mains and the homes are the responsibility of the homeowner and that's where most of the water lines are freezing up.

Allen Burkle, Central City Public Works, said the biggest problem is on the east side of the Wapsipinicon River where the ground consists of more sand than the thicker clay. Workers are hitting solid frost at five and a half feet below ground in that part of Central City. City water lines are usually about six feet or more below ground but water lines into individual homes may be closer to the surface and that's the problem.

Burkle said he's hearing the frustration from residents.

"I understand why they're frustrated. They've got no water, can't take a shower," he said.

Crews say even when the temperatures start to warm up, the crisis won't end immediately. Warmer weather tends to push the frost even deeper at first until it gradually begins to disappear.

So those homes where plumbers haven't been able to open up the frozen water lines may face several more weeks of no water until the ground finally thaws out for good.

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