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Cold Weather Concerns for Utilities

This winter has been particularly cold across much of the country.  In the upper Midwest, where winters are typically much colder and snowier than the rest of the country, cities and utilities are reaching out to their customers to prevent problems caused by the weather.

Clogged Sewers
A City's social media post warning people not to dump grease down the drain went viral in January. The City of Yankton, SD posted the plea for residents to dispose of grease properly after the City experienced significant issues in the sanitary sewer when grease hardened in cold pipes and clogged the system. Grease can be a problem during all seasons, but cold weather can make it worse.

Kyle Goodmanson, Yankton’s Director of Environmental Services, told KFGO Radio that although the photo that was posted on Facebook is not a Yankton pipe, the City has had problems with clogged sewer lines due to grease. The post encourages residents to allow cooking grease to cool and solidify, then dispose of it in the garbage instead of the sink.

"Similar to the warnings that utilities have publicized about so-called flushable wipes that damage and clog sewer systems, congealed grease also poses a major threat, especially when combined with 'flushable' wipes. It’s important to educate customers that sewer systems are not to be used as an alternative to the landfill,” says Scott Schaefer, AE2S Wastewater Practice Leader.  

Frozen Pipes
The American Water Works Association (AWWA) Chapter in Minnesota has promoted a “Let it Run” campaign for the State’s utilities to use when the thermometer dips below zero, to prevent water pipelines from freezing and breaking. The campaign encourages property owners with a history of service lines freezing, or who experience a sudden loss of water pressure, to allow a trickle of water to run out of their faucets to prevent a freeze up.  A stream of water the width of a pencil is recommended. 

“The cost of repairing a service line into a property is typically the responsibility of the property owner, not the utility. Education about the potential for high cost repairs due to frozen service lines, compared to the relatively low cost of running water is something utilities can and should consider during extreme cold snaps,” says Nate Weisenburger, AE2S Drinking Water Practice Leader.

Buried Hydrants
The City of Bozeman, Montana reached out to local media in January to ask for residents’ help in keeping fire hydrants clear of snow.  Bozeman has experienced substantial amounts of snowfall and more than half of the City’s 2,600 hydrants are buried, according to John Alston, Bozeman Water and Sewer Superintendent.

Alston teamed up with Bozeman’s Fire Chief, Jason Kolman, to ask for the community's help to clear hydrants of snow.  A three-foot radius around hydrants is requested, as well as clearing a path from the hydrant to the street.

“Keeping hydrants clear of snow is a public safety priority. If a fire happens on your street, you don’t want firefighters to use precious time shoveling out the hydrant before they can fight the fire. This is something that all communities where snowfall accumulates should be aware of during the winter months,” says Weisenburger. 

Communicating Concerns
Seasonal issues such as protecting against clogged sewers, frozen pipes, and buried hydrants can be communicated with customers through social media, bill stuffers, and news releases or public service announcements via local media outlets. If you would like additional information about communicating with your customers, contact Heather Syverson, AE2S Communications Specialist.