Update (7:30 a.m.): Elyria Safety Service Director Mary Siwierka said the conservation alert expired at midnight, and that things are going well.
"We are waiting until daylight to access the ice melt," Siwierka said.
By Lisa Roberson and Steve Fogarty
Seen as a rare occurrence, frazil ice is a phenomenon that has struck Lorain County twice this winter, first at the Avon Lake water plant and on Monday at the Elyria water pumping plant — prompting Elyria officials to issue a water conservation alert.
The needle-shaped ice crystals made for a tense few days in early January in Avon Lake as crews worked overtime to dislodge ice that packed intake pipes and slowed the plant’s treatment capacity.
The situation also gave Elyria officials reason to follow their written protocol in the event frazil ice jammed Elyria’s intake pipes. That planning came in handy Monday as Elyria workers found it in the city’s intake pipes.
“This is a lengthy process, but it absolutely worked,” Elyria Safety Service Director Mary Siwierka said. “We’re glad we had it.”
Customers who use Elyria city water including Elyria, Amherst, Sheffield Township, Elyria Township and portions of Carlisle Township and North Ridgeville were affected. Residents were asked to conserve water as much as possible to reduce strain on the system. The alert was expected to expire at midnight.
Elyria Mayor Holly Brinda said employees at the water plant, on the shore of Lake Erie in Lorain, first noticed a problem with water pressure early Monday and immediately began working to dislodge the ice.
Six members of the Elyria Fire Department’s dive team used chainsaws to cut holes in ice that was 6 to 8 inches thick, Siwierka said. The cutting allowed pumps to bring water into the plant, bypassing the normal intake pipes.
A private ice cutter from the Vermilion area was called in to chip away at ice near the pipes, which are several thousand feet from shore. Elyria has seven water tanks which hold between 750,000 and 1 million gallons of water. At 9:30 p.m. Monday, the pumps were working well and tanks were being refilled to normal levels, Siwierka said.
Frazil ice occurs when loose, needle-shaped ice crystals collect in the water, resembling slush. It has less buoyancy than traditional ice and settles on the lake bottom, where the intake pipes are.
Water is pulled into the plant, along with the frazil ice. The constant movement of water typically keeps ice from accumulating on the pipes, but repeated freeze-and-thaw weather like the kind seen the last few days can cause frazil ice to accumulate.
Officials said the alert did not affect water quality, as the water was fine to drink and cook with and a boil alert was not issued. However, it did shed light on how cities work to keep the water flowing, even in an emergency situation.
Siwierka said Elyria received water Monday from the Lorain County Rural Water Authority to help with water quantity. Also, North Ridgeville started fortifying its supply by pulling water from Avon Lake after getting notice from Elyria.
“There are redundancies in the system to keep water flowing,” Siwierka said.
North Ridgeville authorities said switching to Avon Lake ensure adequate water for its residents.
“It’s a very simple switch-over,” said Al Swindig Jr., a supervisor with the North Ridgeville Service Department. “We opened four valves. No one felt anything with the water supply.”
North Ridgeville contracts for about 75 percent of its water from Elyria. When Elyria alerted North Ridgeville officials to the conservation alert, the water coming from Elyria was shut off at Chestnut Ridge and switched to the system for Avon Lake.
North Ridgeville also began receiving water temporarily from the Lorain County Rural Water Authority.
North Ridgeville has contracted with Elyria since 2012 when the city signed a 10-year deal to receive up to 2 million gallons a day.
The city had been getting a large part of its water from Avon Lake, but Elyria provided it at a lower cost.
Swindig said Monday the plan was for the city to use Avon Lake and the Rural Water Authority supplies until it receives word from Elyria that it can safely begin providing water to North Ridgeville again.
Reporter Evan Goodenow contributed to this story.