“We’ve worked quite hard to try to alleviate the situation,” public works director Jeff Bumgarner told a crowd of about 30 residents packing the council chambers for a special meeting Monday to discuss the circumstances.
From calling plumbers to using a machine that has worked in the winters of Canada, the city’s varied efforts to bring water back to its residents — some of whom have been without water for more than three weeks — have seen very limited success.
Though the complaints have come from around the city, a cluster of homes without water are in the 1200 block of Lafayette Street. Bumgarner said this was because the water main in that area is not far enough beneath the “frost line.”
Placing water mains five to five and a half feet below the surface is now standard to keep them beneath the frost line, but older guidelines specified shallower depths, according to interim city engineer Brian Brown, who was hired Feb. 11.
“I was telling Brian,” Bumgarner said, “that’s going to be one of our first projects — getting that line deeper. They would be the only block that’s that shallow.”
However, Brown said, it could take three months to complete the project.
Matt Crew, one of the residents of the affected block, suggested using large warming blankets, like the ones construction workers use, to thaw the ground from the top. Mayor Jeff Grove said that was something the city could look into.
“There’s probably nothing we can do at this point,” Grove said, regarding an immediate solution, but he added that once it warmed up outside, the city would look into ways this situation could be prevented from occurring again.
In the mean time, Grove reminded residents that showers were available at the Illinois Valley Y, and water jugs could be filled at the La Salle fire station.
“We’re learning new things, too,” Grove said, explaining that the widespread freezing of water lines was something that had never happened before. “I take full responsibility. We didn’t have a plan; we weren’t prepared. Going forward, we’ll be prepared.”
Crew’s wife, Jean Crew, hadn’t gone to the meeting, but told the NewsTribune their home hadn’t had water since Feb. 15. When her husband went to brush his teeth that evening, the water came out brown, she said, and then there had been no water since.
“I haven’t done dishes in years, because I’ve had a dishwasher,” Jean Crew said. “Now I have two hands, and you have to heat the water on the stove to do that.”
She agreed that there isn’t much the city can do until the ground thaws, but is expecting the water main to be lowered.
“Now I guess they’re going to have to dig up our road and rebury it,” she said.
Andrea Rodda, another 1200 block resident, told the NewsTribune she wasn’t interested in going to Monday’s meeting because she already knew the problem was with the water main and not with residents’ pipes.
“It’s five houses on both sides of the street,” Rodda said. “That’s what we suspected all along.”
She said her home has been without water since Valentine’s Day.
“It’s really, really hard because you can’t take a shower; you can’t flush your toilet; you can’t do anything,” she said.
Rodda said she didn’t think the city could do anything as long as the ground stayed frozen.
“I’m certainly not mad at anybody,” she said. “It’s just frustrating — that’s all.”
Jean Crew said her home has been in her family since before she was born, and this has never happened.
“I know we’re all upset about this, but you have to make do,” she said. “There’s really nothing else you can do.”
Rachel Stella can be reached at (815) 220-6933 or email@example.com.