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Some Frozen Water Pipes May Not Thaw Out for Another Month

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CENTRAL CITY, Iowa - Warmer weather is finally starting to thaw the deep freeze that's been causing pipe problems across eastern Iowa. But estimates are it will still take weeks to get every last frozen water main and service line thawed out.

Allen Burkle, utility supervisor in Central City, said his best estimate now is mid-April for a return to normal service for those frozen out weeks ago.

When the deep freeze was at its worst, in January and February, as many as 40 to 50 homes in Central City lost water to frozen pipe problems. That was about 10 percent of all the water customers. Now, only about eight to ten homes can't get water from the underground pipes.

Burkle said plumbers and contractors unthawed many lines. Water began flowing in a few as the ground warmed a bit. But a handful of residents with stubborn frozen pipes aren't totally out of luck. All currently are hooked up to neighbors who are sharing water through garden hoses wrapped in insulation.

Burkle said the water is safe to drink even if it comes from outside spigots. But Terri Betzer, one resident getting water from a neighbor, said the water does carry a taste from the hose.

"It does not taste the same at all. We've been hauling drinking water to make coffee for us to drink. Everything else is fine, though," Betzer said.

Betzer said the garden hose water is OK for laundry and showers and after three weeks with frozen pipes and no running water, she won't complain.

Neighbor Larry Fuller came to the rescue of Betzer and another next door neighbor who had no running water either. Fuller is supplying two homes besides his own because his pipes never froze up.

"I'm glad they've got water and I hope they would do the same for me if the shoe was on the other foot," Fuller said.

Burkle said the neighbor-helping-neighbor fix is working for now and should last until the underground pipes in Central City, either a city main or service lines to homes, thaw for good. One lingering question for city leaders, though, is who pays.

Neighbors providing and those receiving shared water will get bills averaged, so no one pays extra. But others who took the city's advice to keep the water running slowly so pipes wouldn't freeze may be running up a hefty bill.

Burkle said city workers have tracked usage at some homes where owners told the city they were letting the water trickle out around the clock. One example was a homeowner who usually has a combined water and sewer bill of $55 for two months. Workers said that home is on track for a $150 bill in the next billing cycle.

"We anticipate we'll help out the residents somehow. At this point, we can't tell exactly how much," Burkle said.

Burkle said the Central City council is set to meet next month. One issue to decide then is how much to help out homeowners who took the city's advice to let the water run to prevent frozen pipes.

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