by CHRIS ROGERS
West Burns Valley residents no longer have to boil their tap water after problems stemming from a broken pipe were fully resolved on Friday.
The city of Winona issued a boil water order Wednesday afternoon for select residential streets in West Burns Valley following damage to water pipes serving the area. A water main broke, which possibly could have allowed unpurified groundwater or soil to enter the water main. After fixing the broken pipe and flushing it out, city officials told residents in the area to boil their tap water before consuming it as a precaution. On Friday, the city received test results showing that the tap water in that area is safe to drink.
Winona Public Works Director Brian DeFrang confirmed the boil water order only applied to the following streets along Highway 43 in West Burns Valley: Janet Marie Lane, Debi Lei Drive, Diane Loreli Lane, Bluebird Court, Bluffview Drive, Lohse Drive, and West Burns Valley Road west of 530 West Burns Valley Road. The tap water in other neighboring areas and the rest of the city was not affected, he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, two water mains broke in the area, DeFrang explained, a smaller pipe along Highway 43 and a large, 20-inch main near East Burns Valley Road. The breaks caused numerous homes in the area to lose water service altogether on Tuesday. The city crews and contractors were able to reroute clean water to some homes relatively quickly, DeFrang said, while others were without water through Wednesday evening. Both broken mains were repaired by Wednesday.
The potential for contamination came when the city reconnected the water supply to the broken 20-inch main near East Burns Valley Road, DeFrang said. “It was in a little bit of a swampy area, and it wasn’t very deep, and we weren’t 100-percent confident that some of that soil and [ground]water didn’t get into the pipe,” he explained. The city flushed the pipes to remove any contamination. “We flushed a lot after we turned it on, which should have mitigated anything that was in there. So we’ve pretty confident that we got it, but we always, always, always err on the side of safety,” DeFrang said on Thursday.
Just in case, before reconnecting the water supply to the possibly contaminated water main, the city issued a boil water advisory for the entire neighborhood served by that water main. That included some homes that had been without water service since the breaks occurred and some homes where clean drinking water had been restored but that could be affected by contamination now that the broken pipe was being reconnected, DeFrang said.
The city issued the boil water order on Wednesday afternoon around 3 p.m. It didn’t reconnect the broken 20-inch main — where the potential contamination was — until around 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday night, DeFrang stated. “We did actual paper fliers to every resident out there, and we did the press release. We put it on our website. We put it on the police department’s Facebook page. I think we covered every base except getting the town crier out there,” he said.
After fixing the broken main, city crews collected test samples from various home faucets in the neighborhood and sent them off to a laboratory to be tested for harmful bacteria. On Friday afternoon, the city got the results back — all clear — and lifted the boil water order.
City officials wrote in a press release, “Water may be discolored due to flushing and disturbance. It is safe to drink, and the coloration will fade over the next few days.”
“We got a lot of phone calls and answered a lot of questions,” DeFrang said of responding to the incident. “People who have been out of water have been extremely patient. Everybody has been really understanding.”
The public works director praised the water department staff and contractors for working overtime to fix the breaks: “They worked until 4 a.m. from Tuesday into Wednesday morning and started up the next day … They really put forward an outstanding effort on this. I can’t give those guys enough kudos.”
DeFrang said the cause of the breaks is unknown. “Nine times out of 10 when we have a break, we don’t really know for sure,” he stated. There was another break earlier this year, along the same stretch of Highway 43. “When we have common breaks in an area we can kind of assume that the pipe is weak or the soil is acidic, but these are kind of random spots … The 20-inch section of pipe is not in [acidic] soil, and it’s fairly new pipe,” he said. If there is another break in the near future, the city might have to replace the entire main, DeFrang added.