Boil advisory dropped and water declared safe


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The West Side of Iowa City is free to enjoy unboiled water once more, but the weather indicates this might not be the last main break before the season is over.

Carol Sweeting, a public-information coordinator for the Iowa City Public Works Department, said this break on Capitol Street was one of more than 40 breaks since the first of the year. Last year, there were a reported 82 pipe breaks during the entire year.

Sweeting said it had been a particularly difficult season because of the weather, between drought, flood, and frost.

Frost was the main reason for the break on Capitol Street. As frost gets lower in the ground, it pushes on the pipes and causes fractures. Sweeting said that while trying to fix this pipe in particular, the “frost was like concrete,” which caused the repair to take longer than the usual three to six hours.

Last week, a citizen called the Iowa City Public Works department to report water seeping up from the ground on Capitol Street. This turned out to be a break in the 300-mile-long system in Iowa City.

A crew worked that night to repair the break, and on the morning of Feb. 20, Public Works reviewed the pressure charts with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Sweeting said the pressure west of the Iowa River was “lower for an extended period of time.” The Department of Natural Resources then recommended that a boil advisory be put into effect.

The boil advisory was extended to the entire West Side, including University Heights, with the exception of University of Iowa buildings. The UI has an independent water system.

“Anytime that there is any sort of break in the system, [the Department of Natural Resources] will do a minimum precautionary boil warning,” said Doug Beardsley, the director of Johnson County Public Health. “We want to be sure we err on the side of caution.”

Beardsley said that while Public Health did not have jurisdiction over the boil advisory, it was tasked with reaching out to businesses and restaurants on the West Side to either shut down or prove the businesses were getting water from another source.

Beardsley said there haven’t been any reports of illness.

Twenty-four samples of water were taken from several different locations on the West Side and sent to a state hygienist on Feb. 20 and 21. Tests were run to detect the possible presence of coliform, a bacteria that Sweeting said is generally an indicator for other problems in the system.

Results from all the samples were received on the morning of Feb. 22 — all were determined safe by Natural Resources’ standards.

The boil advisory was lifted Saturday morning. 

Though Sweeting said that there is no definite season where more pipe breaks are likely to occur, the weather of this season does not bode well for the water lines.

“In this situation, we’ll probably continue to see breaks,” Sweeting said. “Unfortunately, there is no magic wand to tell us where the next break will be.”

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