City water main problem resolved, administrator looks to year ahead

By Mary Zielinski
Posted 1/14/99

It was 3 a.m., the temperature was well below zero, and ice surrounded a deep hole where four men were jumping up and down, yelling, then dancing with absolute glee.

They were Kalona city …

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City water main problem resolved, administrator looks to year ahead


It was 3 a.m., the temperature was well below zero, and ice surrounded a deep hole where four men were jumping up and down, yelling, then dancing with absolute glee.

They were Kalona city employees who had finally located the exact place a main water main had broken, something they had sought for two days last week.

“You never saw four happier guys than when we saw we were right on top of the break,” said City Manager Doug Morgan.

The find meant that repairs finally could be made, valves re-opened and water pressure gradually resumed throughout Kalona.

The break, first discovered early Monday (January 4), was in a main water main on 6th St., near Highway 22. It had eluded workers throughout Monday and when they resumed efforts at 5 a.m. Tuesday, “we knew we were going to stay with it until we found it,” Morgan said.

Murphy’s Law

What compounded the problems, “is that it was Murphy’s Law all over the place. Everything that could go wrong did,” he said.

It started with getting valves shut and finding some of them leaked which meant “we stayed in water.” In sub-zero weather that was not a good idea. So, “we decided to dig deeper and set up a pump to get the water out.”

The pump would not hold a prime, said Morgan, something “related to the extreme cold.” They took the pump back to the shop, “where it worked fine, but back out in the weather, it kicked out in 20 minutes.”

They kept turning over valves because “this was a main main and we had to shut off the lateral ones or water came running into it.”

Then a hydraulic line on the backhoe went out, followed by a relay switch taking out the lights and the heater.

The workers then brought in a tractor, only to have it develop a flat tire.

“When we went back to the shop to fix the tire, we found that the air hose was out, flattened by a tire from the street sweeper.”

By late Tuesday afternoon, Morgan decided to call the special Location Service operated by the Cedar Rapids Water Department.

“It’s a two man team and they go everywhere.” Unfortunately, “we could not reach them until 8 p.m. Once we did, though, they said they would be right down. “

In the process, “we had to keep enough pressure in the lines so they could find the leak.”

Which the team did, very shortly after they arrived on the scene.

It indicated the break was 30 feet north of where we had been digging.”

So, the Kalona crew started in with a jackhammer, causing the Cedar Rapids crew to ask why they did not use a special breaker that would open things up in minutes.

“We’re a small town,” Morgan told them. “Then, they told me when their people complain about equipment, they’d tell them about us.”

When the jackhammer broke through and the hole was dug out in the early hours of Wednesday morning, “the break was exactly where they had indicated.”

The city had alerted the nearby elementary school earlier Tuesday that water pressure would be dropping “and we knew we would have to shut off the water totally at some point.” But the city had hoped it would be done before noon. It wasn’t, and the school adapted by providing buses to take pupils to the nearby Middle School for restroom breaks. If the district had canceled classes at Kalona, it would have had to do so for the entire district.

For a number of residences and Pleasantview Home the water shut off went into hours.

“We also knew that English River Pellets needed steam heat for its lines so we tried to work around that.

“The only good thing is that it (the shut off) was at night. We figured that most people would not be affected as much at that time,” Morgan said.

The city has had broken s before, but not as big, “this was an 8 inch main.”

What caused it?

“The ground froze so fast this year that it just expanded and pushed into it,” he replied.

Water was back on for everyone by 3:30 a.m., he said.

“It’s not hard to fix the break once you’ve found it.”

The crew, including Morgan, finally wrapped up about 5 a.m. Wednesday.

“If this happens again, we will contact Cedar Rapids immediately. It’s expensive, but I believe they are worth it,” Morgan said, “adding “they told me they have been repairing breaks all over Cedar Rapids, Marion, Hiawatha and other towns. They were surprised it was our first break. They said we were lucky.”


Morgan is optimistic that the problems are not a precursor of what’s ahead. In fact, the recent experience has made him start a list that puts “checking out all the water valves” at the top.

Equally important is equipment checking.

What about preparing for Y2K?

Morgan said that “I think we will be all right,” explaining that the only thing that could possibly be date-sensitive “is the new control in the new lift station.”

The city has checked with all its suppliers and “I really don’t believe we will have any problems getting water to people.”

To prevent difficulties with electricity, “which could be more of a problem due to a major storm,” the city will obtain a generator and in fact “the council already approved having a switch installed at the water plant to operate a generator.”

The computer system also has been checked, he said, and “we should be all right there, too.”

The recent experience also has convinced him that “the city has to plan for a second water tower, something we should do in 2000.”


“Approximately $300,000,” he replied, noting that “would include all engineering plans and fees.”

Morgan said that it could be financed through the water and sewer revenues, as well as possibly obtaining loans through the state’s revolving loan fund, something Kalona used for its last water improvement project.” The water and sewer fund have been set up to be self-sufficient,” he said.

Although the city will not do as much paving as last year, “we will do some, probably using TIF money.”

Other areas the city needs to consider this year is a building code with provisions for inspections.

“It would be by using a consultant for the inspections,” Morgan said.

He stressed that the code would simply follow and “be in line with” the basic building code of Iowa.

Another item is possible purchase of a leaf vacuum, “especially if we have to look at a ban on burning.”

That led Morgan to note that the city’s burn pile “also has to be addressed. I believe we need it, but there have been abuses of it.”

The latter involves residents disposing of other than tree limbs and branches, but “dumping grass and leaves, shingles, even furniture.”

All are items that “will be discussed by the council,” he said.

“You know, though, these are problems of a growing town,” he added. “So, maybe, these are not such bad problems to have.”