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Water Main Breaks Straining the Budget in Cedar Rapids

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa- Warming weather may feel nice after the cold temperatures. But there is a downside to getting back above freezing. It's a contributing factor to the rash of water main breaks that have kept water crews and contractors busy.

Four broken water lines happened on Thursday in Cedar Rapids. Megan Murphy, a city utilities spokesperson, said the average number of water breaks is each is 107. So far, in the city's fiscal year that ends June 30th, crews have fixed 138 water line problems. She estimates the eventual total will probably hit near 200—or almost double the normal amount of most years.

Murphy said each break, on average, costs about $3,500 to repair. At the expected rate the rest of the year, the city will wind up about $175,000 over budget for repairs. But she said in a large municipal water department like Cedar Rapids, that's not enough to really wreck the budget.

"It's definitely above the budget we have for main breaks, but at the same time we can try for efficiencies in other areas to cover those costs so it's not going to break the bank," Murphy said.

And Murphy said a near doubling of water main breaks this year won't prompt the Cedar Rapids Water Department to seek any kind of a water rate increase to address that issue in the next budget. Murphy said the current proposed city budget does call for a small water increase already, but that's based on long term needs and expenses and not short term repair issues.

Two homeowners who were out of water for hours said the repairs in front of their homes weren't a big deal.

Brenda Taylor said when crews told her they would shut off water service soon she "put a plug in the tub to run a hot bath for myself and then started filling up jugs of water."

Laurie Strottman added it wasn't that big an inconvenience.

"Not too much. I'm not able to do some chores and will just put off laundry and other things," she said.

January and February are typically the busiest months for problems with water mains and the ground movement. In the case of what happened Thursday, suddenly warming temperatures after weeks of below normal temperatures, is probably a primary reason for the outbreak. However , Murphy also said the city went through another period of water line troubles in recent years when dry weather also created more settling and movement underground and under city streets.

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