As home-owners are installing insulation for their pipes and windows for winter, the Abilene Public Works Department has its own water and pipes ready for the freezing temperatures ahead.
For the city, Lon Schrader, director of public works, said preparing for the winter is “an ongoing process.”
Aside from pipes, another concern is water meters freezing. Though not unusual, Schrader said the city the 2020-2021 winter caused a “considerable” number to freeze. As Schrader and others could attest to, he said, last winter was abnormally colder, which is probably why a high number of them froze.
“If you have a meter barrel or meter pit that has a little break in it or little hole in the side of it,” Schrader said. “I’ve seen times when the wind is cold enough with that hole there. It’s like having a crack in your foundation.”
Schrader said his team made sure the meters are better insulated for this winter. Certain vendors sell insulation foam disks made specifically meters that public works employees stick into the meters. Residents can insulate their meters on their own if they want.
For the mainline water pipes, Schrader said there are a few problems public works has to look out for before winter comes.
First is the ground shifting.
“When it gets super cold, the ground shifts. In the heat of summer, the ground cracks. Everyone’s aware of those cracks in the ground,” Schrader said. “Those cracks in the ground are a problem for us because as the ground dries out and cracks, it shifts. When the ground shifts, that’s what breaks water mains.”
Exposed pipes are also an issue. Underground, the pipes do not freeze during winter usually. This is because they sit far enough underground not to — about three to four feet, Schrader said. When exposed, however, the pipes will freeze. Schrader said they had to cover up an exposed pipe this year with a mainline exposure near First Street by Mud Creek.
Last winter, part of the waterline froze because erosion had gradually been removing the ground above and the unusually cold temperature.
“I’ve been here forty years, and I can honestly only remember two times water main freezing,” Schrader said.
Abilene’s Water Treatment Plant and Wastewater Treatment Plant prepare for winter “pretty much all the time” as well, Schrader said. Before winter though, they do need to complete “special arrangements” such as ensuring heaters and lift stations for waste water are working.