Despite this week’s 40-degree temperatures, fallout from last week’s cold snap were still being felt in Woodward, where a water main break early Monday morning left the town without running water until Monday afternoon and under a boil order not lifted until midday Wednesday.
Woodward Mayor Brian C. Devick said Monday the break in the city’s water line was discovered late Sunday night when the level in the city’s water tower began dropping, triggering automated alarms and setting the city water plant crew into action trying to isolate the broken line.
"These kinds of breaks are hard to locate this time of year," Devick said, "because the frost line is about 40 inches, and you get frost heaving and movement in pipes that were not designed to move."
State-mandated testing of the city’s water quality concluded Wednesday. Devick said the test results suggested few if any contaminants had entered the system, but "we’re erring on the side of caution in protecting public health and safety."
Woodward Water Superintendent Steven Gunderson, a veteran city worker with 20 years at the head of the water department, said the system alerted him to the low water level in the detention tank about 3 a.m. Monday.
"We were producing 300 gallons per minute and losing about 500 per minute," Gunderson said, "so the water tower was draining pretty quickly."
By 6 a.m. they had isolated the break near the former nursing home at Cedar Avenue and Eighth Street on the southeast side of town but by then the water level in the tower had dropped to just five feet—the tower’s usual level is 19 to 26 feet—so Gunderson ordered the water plant’s pumping system shut down.
This left Woodward residents without any running water until about noon, when it was restored everywhere but a three-block area near the broken main.
Whenever a shutdown occurs, Gunderson said, the loss of water pressure can lead to a reflux or backflow in the system, which risks introducing contaminants into the water supply. So even though water service was restored on Monday, it was still deemed unsafe to drink, and a boil order was issued by the city advising residents to boil all water prior to using it for drinking, cooking or bathing.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) also requires a series of water-quality tests before lifting the boil order, Gunderson said. The water tower was first refilled from the source wells the city shares with the Woodward Resource Center at the same time chlorine was added to destroy any bacterial contaminants. Then the entire water system was flushed before testing began.
Gunderson said the DNR requires "four samples from above the flow"—upstream, so to speak—and three from below. The first tests were done Monday afternoon, and the results were available by noon on Tuesday, when the second tests were done.
"We felt the residuals we had from the first test were good," Gunderson said, which means the chlorine was doing its work sterilizing the water supply.
Results from the Tuesday test were expected by noon on Wednesday.
Gunderson said he was "very positive about what happened" with the city’s response. "We were pretty tickled overall, not that there was a break in the main but with the smooth way the system worked."
Woodward City Clerk and Financial Office Christina Perkins said Fareway Stores in Boone donated four pallets of bottled water to the city of Woodward. It was distributed at the Woodward Middle School on Monday.
Fred Greiner, President and Chief Operating Officer of Fareway Stores, said he heard about Woodward’s water main break on the radio Monday morning and suggested to his risk management officer they send down a supply.
"We sell it, of course, but we know what it’s like when a city is suddenly without water," he said, adding Fareway Stores often makes similar humanitarian outreach efforts around the state.
Customers at the Whistlin’ Donkey, a popular Woodward restaurant and tavern, seemed to take the water loss in stride Monday afternoon.
Jordan Henry, assistant manager of the bar, said they serve a lot of water with lunch and a lot of carbonated fountain drinks from the bar, and customers were doing without these, but there were enough substitutes to satisfy the local thirsts.