City battles water line breaks
Crews repair three lines; firefighters provide aid
Matt Bichelmeyer, who had to close his restaurant Monday night because water pipes behind his downtown restaurant had burst, is grateful.
"It hurt us," said Bichelmeyer, owner of Bichelmeyer's Steakhouse. "But I'm so thankful it wasn't on a Friday or a Saturday night when we have so many customers come around from a four-county area."
Butch Rogers, public works director, said the city is unsure what caused the pipes to break.
It could be a combination of aging pipes and too much pressure building up in the water lines when the water from the tower on Hubbel Hill was shut off for road construction at U.S. Highway 24-40 and Fourth Street, he said.
"I think part of it was coincidental," Rogers said.
The three breaks occurred near the 24-40 and Fourth Street intersection, on Second Street just east of the highway, and behind Bichelmeyer's. The latter two breaks, he said, were probably on the city's original lines, installed in the late 1920s or early 1930s.
"It doesn't take a lot of pressure differential to cause a weak point in one of the lines to break," Rogers said.
Crews started the repair work in mid-afternoon and finished up by 11 p.m., Rogers said.
"Luckily we had enough people and manpower, and Larry Meadows got his crews in here because we knew it was going to be a long battle if we battled it on our own with the staff we have," Rogers said.
With both crews, the city and Meadows Construction, working, everyone in the city had normal water usage by about 9 p.m.
"Otherwise, we wouldn't have had water on until about 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning," Rogers said.
Jerry Daskoski, Tonganoxie Elementary School principal, said school staff noticed there was low water pressure by mid-afternoon. With 768 students in the school, Daskoski, said there could have been a problem.
"I think we lucked out on this one," he said.
Dave Weakley, manager and chef at Bichelmeyer's Steakhouse, said an employee of a neighboring business first pointed out the water leak.
"I went behind the building and water was bubbling up in eight or 10 different places," Weakley said. "It was coming up about knee high."
Rogers said the runoff water cost the city an estimated 180,000 to 200,000 gallons, about the same as a day's usage this time of year, he said.
The city, which has been on a watering restriction since July, wasn't hurt too badly, he said, noting that the city wells have remained healthy in recent weeks.
On the scene with city workers and construction crews were area firefighters. They provided lighting for crews digging in water soaked holes that were about eight feet deep. And, they stood by with tanker trucks in case a fire occurred in the city while the water was shut off, or while the water pressure was low.
Dave Bennett, deputy fire chief and training officer for the Tonganoxie Fire Department, said firefighters stayed with the crews until they were no longer needed, around 9:30 p.m. During one time, things were more hectic than expected because Tonganoxie firefighters were called to clean up a small diesel spill at G&P Country Market.
He noted that the following fire departments had tanker trucks ready to provide water if needed: Fairmount Township, Tonganoxie Township, Stranger Township and Tonganoxie City.
Bennett said a total of about 30 firefighters from those departments helped cover Tonganoxie.
"It was a busy evening," Bennett said.