AVON LAKE — Avon Lake Municipal Utilities is looking to make some changes after an ice blockage at its facility led to a water shortage emergency earlier this month that affected its more than 200,000 customers.
During a utilities board meeting Tuesday night, Todd Danielson, chief executive for the utility, discussed several methods for preventing ice blockage in the facility’s pipes. He stressed, however, that the frazil ice that caused the blockage is rare.
Frazil ice is a collection of loose, needle-shaped ice crystals in water. For frazil ice to occur, the air temperature has to be less than 26 degrees Fahrenheit.
Danielson said the frazil ice was initially reported about 9 p.m. Jan. 7, when the plant manager was called in because intake pipes were taking in less water than usual. Overnight, crews worked to backwash water and air through the pipes, but they had no success, Danielson said.
“That has worked in the past … However, during the night of the 7th into the 8th, it wasn’t working. It would partially work in that we were able to keep the water flowing in, but to a much lower level than was needed,” he said.
Danielson said workers at the plant tried other methods, including notifying neighbors that they would start drawing water from other plants, but the problem wasn’t fixed by morning. About 8 a.m. Jan. 8, an order went out to Avon Lake customers to begin conserving water.
As the situation grew dire, Lorain County commissioners issued a state of emergency notice for the county, and the Avon Fire Department worked with neighboring departments to secure additional tanker trucks. That night, residents were told that it may take more than a day to fix the problem.
Danielson said, however, Avon Lake Municipal Utilities was able to partner with Xylem Dewatering Solutions, which supplied additional pumps. The pumps were used to draw water into the facility, and with increased water pressure through the facility’s intake pipes, the frazil ice began to melt.
By 5 a.m. Jan. 9, the facility was pumping enough to restore the reserves.
“Throughout the entire situation, there was always water going through, and the conservation message really did work,” Danielson said. “Because the customers helped conserve, because PolyOne and Ford significantly cut back, we were able to maintain water pressure.”
Danielson credited Avon Lake Municipal Utilities’ use of Facebook and Twitter with helping to keep customers informed. The company also used the CodeRED emergency alert system to communicate with residents.
Danielson said the company is now looking at what it can do to prevent such an emergency from occurring again.
“Events such as this are rare. They do not happen very often, but when they do, they are significant,” he said. “Our water, we provide it to 200,000 people, and it’s not just the 200,000 people, but it’s also businesses … so we certainly take this seriously.”
Danielson said the company has already begun modifying its operations and will keep an additional pump at the facility, if needed, during the winter. He said Avon Lake Municipal Utilities has also maintained a relationship with Xylem Dewatering Solutions.
Workers at Avon Lake Municipal Utilities are studying operations to determine the most cost-effective changes that can improve the system. Among the considerations are installing intake grate modifications, such as heated grates and adding more water storage units.
Those suggestions will be further investigated and presented during the board’s next meeting, Danielson said. He added that expenditure figures from the water emergency should also be available then.
Board member Tim Rush praised Danielson for the thorough presentation, and he said he was confident that the company would find a solution.
“It sounds like we have some options for prevention preparedness in the future,” he said.
Avon Lake Mayor Greg Zilka, who was in attendance for a portion of Tuesday’s meeting, commended the staff for working through the night to fix problems and restore services.
“They went above and beyond the call of duty to get everyone online, and the city is most grateful for that, and the region is most grateful for that,” he said.
Avon Lake’s problem will serve as a learning experience for Elyria. Safety Service Director Mary Siwierka said the city will be ready in case anything should happen.
“Avon Lake had to call in divers and wait for them to come to address the problem,” Siwierka said. “That proved very costly for them. We want to be ready, plus we have the luxury of having a dive team in the city that can go down immediately to address the problem.”
Should ice build up in Elyria’s pipes, which supply water to the city as well as two-thirds of North Ridgeville, Amherst and several surrounding townships, Siwierka said a combination of techniques will be used such as cutting a hole into the frozen lake to pump water into the pump via hoses that bypass the intake pipe as well as pushing water into the blockage in the hopes of breaking up the ice, similar to the technique used in Avon Lake.
Lisa Roberson contributed to this report.