You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.


  • ePAPER

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and interactive features. Starting at just 99c for 8 weeks.


Welcome to

Your source for Clark and Champaign counties’ hometown news. All readers have free access to a limited number of stories every month.

If you are a News-Sun subscriber, please take a moment to login for unlimited access.

Weather wreaks havoc on water lines

Springfield, Urbana kept busy with repair work through early part of year.

Water line breaks have surged this year because of wildly fluctuating temperatures, leading to overtime expenses and costly repairs for local governments and schools.

The Springfield, Urbana and Clark County water departments, as well as the Greenon Local and Northwestern Local school districts, have all dealt with water line problems in the last month.

While decades-old water lines are a factor in many cases, the weather also plays a significant role.

“When it’s 35 (degrees) one day, 9 the next and 35 the next day it causes problems,” said Robert Munch, superintendent of the Urbana Water Division.

In Urbana, city water crews have already repaired nine water line breaks this year, Munch said.

At its current pace, Munch estimated Urbana would handle as many as 120 breaks in a single year. Last Tuesday, Urbana crews handled three breaks in a single day.

Springfield already had 17 water line leaks in 2013 as of Friday. Last year, the city had just 29 leaks for the year, in part because of the mild winter. The record for breaks in one year was 62 in 2003, Chris Moore, the city’s service director, said.

Clark County has had six water main leaks this year, said Clark County Department of Utilities Deputy Director Chuck Bauer.

Water line breaks at both Greenon and Northwestern have also caused problems for the school districts.

Moore said Springfield’s workers are ready for leaks, especially between mid-October and mid-March, because it’s “a likelihood at any given moment.”

“We’re always prepared,” Moore said. “You can’t predict it.”

Moore said its takes the city typically five hours to fix a routine water main break.

“Granted, there are some that aren’t routine,” Moore said.

Springfield’s overtime costs are paid through the water fund. The city’s water distribution department handles the day-to-day operations of all the pipes, fire hydrants and service issues. Its estimated annual budget is $1.3 million, which includes an estimated $27,000 per year in overtime costs. Last year, it spent $18,600 in overtime after budgeting for $25,000.

Bauer said the majority of the leaks in Clark County come from older water systems built in the 1950s and 1960s. They had 10 leaks in all of 2012 but average as many as 20 per year.

Bauer estimated the county spends $10,000 to $15,000 per year in overtime costs to repair water leaks, many of which happen while workers are off duty.

“It’s all related to timing,” Bauer said.

The breaks provide significant challenges to the city, taking time away from other duties crews need to perform. A single break can take anywhere from three hours to 28 hours to repair, depending on factors ranging from the severity of the break to the depth of the water line. Typically, a break takes between four and six hours to repair, Munch said.

“There are quick easy ones, and there are ones that are nightmares,” he said.

Munch said city workers had to repair water lines 72 times in 2012, a significant drop from 2011, when workers had to repair 117 breaks. The number has fluctuated over the last several years, with as few as 80 water line breaks in 2009 and as many as 133 in 2007.

Typically, most breaks occur in the spring, although the temperature has shifted several times in January this year.

“Usually March and April is when we get the strange months,” Munch said.

Northwestern Local Schools closed on Jan. 2 when a water main break occurred on the west side of the high school near the water tower.

On Jan. 23, custodians at Greenon High School discovered a water supply line in a unit ventilator in a second-floor classroom had frozen and burst, causing damage to classrooms and hallways on both floors.

“We had two veteran teachers who lost a lot of things they’ve had for a long, long time, including personal items, things that can’t be given back,” Greenon Local Schools superintendent Dan Bennett said. “We’ve lost instructional time as well. I’m very concerned about those things.”

The damage is covered by insurance and could cost approximately $30,000 to $40,000.

“A big part of it was the cold weather,” said Bennett.

Greenon High School may also be forced to take a calamity day in February to allow for repairs to be completed. The date is tentatively set for Feb. 15 for the high school only.

Residential water lines are made of different material than larger city lines, and typically do not face the same issues during fluctuations in the weather, said Joe Holtvoight, a master plumber and owner at Holt Brothers Plumbing, Heating and Cooling in Urbana. Residential water lines are smaller and are usually made of copper or plastic piping which are more flexible than the much larger ductile iron pipes often used by cities.

Although fluctuations in weather do not typically lead to breaks in residential lines, a prolonged cold snap can occasionally cause residential lines to freeze.

“If the temperatures stay low and we go through a long snap of cold or subzero temperatures, we do have a lot more business in that area,” Holtvoight said.

If you suspect a water main break in the street or near your property in Springfield, call 937-525-5800 during business hours or 937-324-7663 during non-business hours.

“If we get a call about a main break at 8 p.m., we don’t wait until the next morning,” Moore said. “We come in and fix it that night.”

For water issues in Clark County, call 937-521-2150. Urbana residents can call the city’s water division at 937-652-4335.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Community News

Nationwide search on for escaped Tri-County Jail inmate
Nationwide search on for escaped Tri-County Jail inmate

A nationwide search has begun for an inmate who remains on the loose after escaping from the Tri-County Regional Jail in Mechanicsburg on Thursday evening. The inmate who escaped is Staling Santos-Reyes, who was in jail on a $300,000 bond from a Madison County case. MORE: Springfield woman charged in fight over ATVs, alleged beating threat Santos-Reyes...
Woman’s reaction to sandals prompts severely swollen feet, ER visits
Woman’s reaction to sandals prompts severely swollen feet, ER visits

An unsuspecting woman was confined to a wheelchair and visited multiple hospitals when her ankles blistered and swelled uncomfortably and alarmingly. >> Read more trending news When Jessica Jones noticed a small, red spot on her ankle in February, she thought it was a spider bite. When she saw a doctor, he told her it was cellulitis, a common...
Dole settles civil suits related to listeria outbreak
Dole settles civil suits related to listeria outbreak

Dole Fresh Vegetables, Inc. has settled two separate civil lawsuits related to a listeria outbreak last year tied to the company’s Springfield plant. Court documents filed in U.S. District Court show the company recently reached settlement agreements with plaintiffs in two separate cases. The terms of both agreements were not disclosed. The most...
Kindhearted cops give homeless man makeover
Kindhearted cops give homeless man makeover

A police department’s act of kindness for a New York man who they say has been “down on his luck” is going viral. The Rome Police Department on Tuesday shared photos of the man, whom they identified as Bobby, before and after he was given a haircut, a shave, a shower and new clothing. “Bobby left looking like a whole new person...
Sheriff reassigns, suspends Sidney HS SRO for inappropriate comments
Sheriff reassigns, suspends Sidney HS SRO for inappropriate comments

A Shelby County Sheriffs deputy who reported Thursday that he made inappropriate comments to a female student at Sidney High School has been reassigned and suspended without pay. Deputy Anthony Cipollone worked as a school resource officer at the high school and has been with the sheriff’s office since July 2015, according to a release from Chief...
More Stories