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Fluctuating temps are bad break for watermains

Crews respond to four recent watermain breaks

Oconomowoc Utilities crews were out on Sherman Drive working to fix one of two water main breaks that happened Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. Crews have to locate the breaks, dig out around the pipe and repair it before closing up the street and restoring water service to the area residents.

Oconomowoc Utilities crews were out on Sherman Drive working to fix one of two water main breaks that happened Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013. Crews have to locate the breaks, dig out around the pipe and repair it before closing up the street and restoring water service to the area residents. Photo By Todd Ponath

Feb. 20, 2013

City of Oconomowoc - The fluctuating temperatures this winter have been shaking things up underground and are the main contributor to four recent watermain breaks in the city.

Crews have been able to quickly pinpoint the breaks and fix them within 60 to 90 minutes, said Utilities General Manager Dennis Bednarski.

"Our guys are out there firing on all cylinders. We have set a level of expectation and value, and we are happy to meet it. We want our customers to know they can count on that," said Bednarski.

On Thursday, Feb. 14, crews tended to the city's fourth watermain break in a couple of months. Bednarski said that when temperatures fluctuate from warmer to severe cold, the ground moves, affecting the mains. "For the most part when it just stays cold we don't see problems until it gets warmer," Bednarski said. But this winter has fluctuated, taking a toll on the city infrastructure.

The city uses capital improvement funds to fix the main breaks; similar funds are budgeted for preventive measures such as replacing old mains with new ones. "No one likes to see their water rates go up, but we must invest in maintenance," said Bednarski.

"We spend $200,000 to $300,000 a year toreplace infrastructure," he said, adding that some of the city's pipes date to the 1940s.

Main breaks not only cost money to repair, but money goes down the drain with the gushing water. Bednarski said that is top of mind for his crews when they're out working to stop a break.

"Our guys take a business acumen when out on main breaks. That's wasted water that we spent money on treating and pumping. For our field crews to have that attitude is a rarity. They want to see that money be there for tools and trucks," he said.

In an effort to prevent more money from going down the drain, the city does a citywide survey of its water loss every year. From that research, it has discovered leaks it previously didn't know existed, such as a recent one near McDonald's on East Wisconsin Avenue. The leaks sometimes contribute to watermain breaks down the road.

Bednarski said the proactive culture - whether out fixing a watermain break or prioritizing repairs and studies - is what the city expects from the publicly owned utility. "We charge $3.33 per thousand gallons, and that's one of the lowest rates around," he said.

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