AVON LAKE — A workaround allowed Avon Lake Municipal Utilities to restore water service to the 200,000 customers it serves largely in Lorain and Medina counties.
Water usage restrictions were lifted at 6:30 a.m. Thursday as crews successfully cleared some of the slushy frazil ice that was blocking water intake pipes in Lake Erie and used pumps to refill the treatment plant and water tanks to bolster the water system. The blockages in the pipes, which bring water to Avon Lake Municipal Utilities, were not allowing the facility to keep up with demand.
The jam prompted the water service to issue a conservation notice to its customers across seven counties, including Sheffield Lake, Sheffield, Avon, a portion of North Ridgeville, Medina and Brunswick in Medina County and portions of customers served by the Lorain County Rural Water Authority.
The blockage forced several cities to seek conservation efforts by residents Wednesday evening, and the Lorain County commissioners to declare a state of emergency. With no timetable for service restoration as the night wore on, the city of Avon neared critically low levels, and water service completely stopped in Olmsted Falls and Columbia Township, affecting between 3,000 and 4,000 customers.
Some areas that receive water from the Rural Lorain County Water Authority were under a boil alert Thursday while the water supply was restored.
Todd Danielson, chief utilities executive for Avon Lake Municipal Utilities, said the situation could have been much worse.
“We were just barely able to provide water to Avon Lake,” he said. “Compared to what could have been, this has been an absolutely incredible situation.”
Danielson had said by mid-afternoon Wednesday that crews weren’t making progress with traditional methods designed to break up the ice in the intake pipes.
About midnight, workers devised a creative solution with the help of Kendera Construction in Avon Lake, which built a road from the Avon Lake Municipal Utilities’ water pump to the beach, as well as temporary pump staging areas. Divers from Lake Erie Diving in Mentor then helped install suction lines into Lake Erie, and Xylem Dewatering Solutions in Painesville loaned pumps to draw the water out of the lake.
“We were able to not only fill up our treatment plant but also our tanks,” Danielson said.
The activity began to melt some of the frazil ice as well, which formed because of lake conditions and the sub-zero temperatures Monday and Tuesday.
About 3 p.m. Thursday, Avon Lake Municipal Utilities posted on its Facebook page that the first big chunks of ice were coming out of the regular water intake lines at the floor of Lake Erie, about 1,800 to 2,200 feet off the shore.
Danielson, who said he caught a few hours of sleep Wednesday night, praised the hard work of staff, who worked around the clock to fix the problem.
“I think this is just a testament of when you see insurmountable odds in front of you, you can succeed and overcome,” he said. “I’m so awed by how hard these people will work to keep the water flowing.”
Danielson said crews would work through Thursday so that the plant is fully operational. Staff will meet at a later date to discuss the situation.
Danielson said Avon Lake Municipal Utilities has only had frazil ice once before — five years ago — but the ice didn’t cause any major problems. He said the design of the company’s pipes could be more susceptible to ice, and the design would be examined and considered.
“Different designs might be better for one situation, rather than another … We’ve done a good job with keeping out the sticks and debris,” he said.
Dan McGannon, superintendent of water distribution for the Lorain Utility Department, said there are ways to prevent frazil ice buildup, and crews with Lorain’s water plant were anticipating some ice.
“It happens a little bit every year to every water system,” he said. “Unfortunately for Avon Lake, they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
McGannon said crews at Lorain’s plant were feeding air through intake lines to prevent ice buildup, but the location of Avon Lake’s intake pipes, as well as the design, could have led to the buildup.
On Thursday, some communities saw the aftermath of the water emergency while others resumed activities as usual.
Hidden Oaks Drive and Crocker’s Landing Subdivision in Columbia Township and Willow Creek Subdivision in Eaton Township remained under a boil alert.
Residents in those areas were advised to bring water used for cooking, drinking and cleaning to a rolling boil for at least one minute prior to use. Restaurants and food service personnel were asked to put proper safeguards in place, including taking ice machines offline.
All other communities had no water usage restrictions.
Sheffield Mayor John Hunter said the water emergency had a minimal effect on the village.
“We didn’t have any shortages,” he said. “We haven’t had any problems throughout this whole thing.”