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Government and Politics


NE Ohio infrastructure is cold but not frozen
Local governments work to keep water flowing at a time when breaks are just about guaranteed
by WKSU's MARK URYCKI


Senior Reporter
Mark Urycki
 
A main intake pipe from Lake Rockwell to Akron's treatment plant is deep enough to prevent freezing.
Courtesy of City of Akron
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In The Region:
In big snow storms, it’s the area road departments that are under pressure to keep traffic moving. But when seriously low temperatures are the problem, our entire infrastructure can be stressed.
LISTEN: What freezes and what doesn't

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Plowing snow is easy.  But try stopping a 75-year-old cast iron pipe from gushing water when it’s below zero.

Cold makes things brittle, and city and county officials all through the Midwest this week all but guarantee they will have a water main break this week. The city of Cleveland has to replace water pipes every year, but Jason Wood of the Cleveland Water Department says they will never have them all in good shape.

“We have 5,200 miles of water mains in our system and the useful life of a water main is pretty long, about 100 years.  So it does take a long time to cycle through the entire system.”

It’s the same in Akron and its 1,200 miles of pipes. Water Supply Manager Jeffrey Bronowski says crews know the breaks are most likely to occur in the older parts of town.

Computers and 100-year-old pipes
“So it’s something that we pay very close attention to and we have a number of computer models to help us identify the most problematic areas in our system.”

Water pipes are buried 4 to 5 feet underground. Sewer pipes are usually 10 to 12-feet deep and far less likely to freeze.   But Jean Chapman of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District says they can be damaged when water mains above break.

“We had an incident a number of years ago on East 9th [in Cleveland] where that did in fact happen. Our sewer pipe collapsed.”

Most of the time, wastewater maintains the same temperature as the ground. The sewer bureau manager for Akron, Brian Gresser, says that enables the city to keep its treatment plant running without freezing up.

“The temperature of the water coming in and out of the treatment plant only varies about 20 degrees throughout the year. Anywhere from a low of 54 degrees to maybe a high of 75 degrees.”

You can see where Akron’s treated effluent discharges into the Cuyahoga River. Hundreds of ducks gather this time of year around the warm water out-fall. 

Boosting the biodigester
But the cold does slow down one process in this cycle. In November, Akron put online an anaerobic digester plant that uses bacteria to turn garbage into energy.  Brian Gresser says sometimes they have to help out the process a little.

“The bacteria needs extra heat to do their thing, and we have to fire up more boilers or whatever to provide more heat to the process.”

But what about water intake? Cleveland’s drinking water comes in from Lake Erie, too deep to be affected by the cold.   Akron gets its water from a pipe about 15 feet below the surface of Lake Rockwell in Kent. It hits the treatment plant at just above freezing and Jeffrey Bronowski says that means it’s easier to treat.

“Chlorine addition is reduced significantly. The addition of some aesthetic-related chemicals such as powdered activated carbon, those aren’t needed as much during the winter months.”

Bronowski says the water keeps moving and that’s what keeps it from freezing – even through the above-ground water towers. Officials say keeping water moving in your home’s pipes is one way to keep them from freezing. 

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