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Evelyn Eisenberg uses a neighbor’s garden hose to bring water into her Amboy home. A “buffalo box” connected outside her home to Eisenberg’s water pipes is frozen, effectively halting her water service. Dozens of area homes are going without water thanks to relentless cold that has frozen pipes. The Illinois YMCA in Peru is offering free showers to people who can’t bathe and La Salle Fire Department is filling 1-gallon containers until a thaw comes.
NewsTribune photo/Scott Anderson
By Tom Collins and Tamara Abbey NewsTribune Staff
Water weighs 8.3 pounds per gallon — a fact that the mother of a Mendota firefighter knows very well.
After 19 days of frozen pipes and no running water, 68-year-old Evelyn Eisenberg of Amboy has been reduced to hauling water by hand and feels every ounce.
“You know flushing a toilet takes 4-5 gallons of water?” Eisenberg said. “It’s been awful. For showers and laundry, I have to take it over to my son.
“So yes, it’s been difficult,” she said, “but you have to do what you have to do.”
Other Illinois Valley residents have been making do without running water since a deep freeze that never really let up.
John Coutts has been shoveling snow into his toilet bowl to get it to flush.
Coutts lives in the 1100 block of St. Vincent’s Avenue and hasn’t had running water in a week. A combination of frigid winter temperatures and a heavy blanket of snow have frozen the ground at least 4 feet deep. Coutts is among the homeowners whose pipes have frozen.
“There’s no water coming into the house — period,” said Coutts, who’s been showering at Flying J Travel Plaza at $12 a pop.
Coutts isn’t alone. Frozen pipes have been reported at scattered neighborhoods in La Salle and Oglesby, and the Illinois Valley YMCA has had members and guests coming in to use the showers, free of charge.
“I’ve had four or five people call me asking if they can come in and shower and of course we said, ‘Sure,’” said Dave Potthoff, CEO.
Frozen pipes have been reported throughout the area, though La Salle superintendent of public works Jeff Bumgarner confirmed there is an entire block — the 1200 block of Lafayette Street — where every homeowner has frozen pipes.
In all, Bumgarner counted 40 reports of frozen pipes in La Salle alone. Affected residents are invited not only to use the YMCA’s free showers but to fill 1-gallon containers with water at La Salle Fire Department.
What’s going on? Why are pipes freezing now when temperatures were lower — much lower, at times — in January than in February?
Holly Grasser, manager at Grasser’s Plumbing and Heating in McNabb, said there is no single explanation for frozen pipes, which certainly were a problem during January’s deep-freeze but have continued, puzzlingly so, well after temperatures rose to seasonal norms.
Grasser noted that last week’s warm spell created a freeze-thaw-freeze effect that caused aging pipes and plumbing components to fail. The heavy snow pack also seems to be insulating the already-frozen ground, lowering the frost line 4 feet or more with the result that even city mains and buffalo boxes are freezing.
“There are a lot of weird stories that you don’t normally hear,” she allowed. “There’s a house in Spring Valley and when the snow started to melt last week it started pouring through their window well and they can’t get it to stop.
“It’s been a weird winter.”
Bumgarner said he’s conferred with residents in their 70s and 80s and while many can remember worse cold spells than were recorded this year, none could recall a winter of such sustained cold.
“It’s been 10 or 20 degrees below normal since Dec. 1,” he said, attributing the information to WGN. “Even though we’ve had a couple of days above freezing, we haven’t had a substantial period of thawing.”
And without an extended thaw, the ground has frozen to depths that have put many water services at risk of freezing.
A few residents have had success using space heaters, hair dryers and blowtorches to unfreeze pipes, Grasser said, but by and large, “if you have frozen pipes, there’s not a lot we can do.”
That’s a response that Eisenberg has been getting from Amboy officials — and she’s not happy.
In talks with the city, she said they claim a water main break just down the block had nothing to do with the sudden disruption of water service. She called a plumber, who did not find any frozen lines or obstructions on her end of the service line from where it connects to the water main from the city's Buffalo box.
Eisenberg said she finds it suspicious that the city repaired a water main break Feb. 5 and then she lost water service on Feb. 6. Her plumber suspects some sort of kink or obstruction just past the connection.
Eisenberg has talked to city officials and they mostly deny the problem is related to the water main break. Her son, Lonny Eisenberg, a member of the Mendota Fire Department, isn’t sure she’s getting a straight answer. He and his siblings took their concerns to Facebook Sunday.
“It’s three weeks now — it’s too long,” he said. “It needs to get fixed. My impression is the mayor’s stalling.”
Jim Harmon of La Salle is among the residents whose water was restored. Harmon lives in the 1600 block of LaHarpe Street and was without water for “four or five days,” during which time he took his son to his parents’ nearby home each morning.
“You can’t cook and you can’t shower in your own home,” Harmon said.
The problem was remedied when his landlord ran hot water from the boiler into the outside line and was able to melt or dislodge whatever icy blockage had formed. Harmon wants to avoid re-freezing so he has every faucet and tap dripping constantly and “I’m going to have a huge water bill.”
Harmon said he’s after city hall to issue a credit for the additional usage he’ll incur between now and whenever the ground thaws.
“I pay my water bill, I do what they ask and now they say they can’t supply me water because it’s too cold?” Harmon asked rhetorically. “I don’t think I’m asking anything ridiculous.”