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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Winton wrestles without water

Keith Vandervort
Posted 2/24/21

WINTON – Sustained below-zero temperatures and limited snow cover contributed to frozen water lines and water main breaks here last week. It was so cold that even the Winton water tower froze …

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Winton wrestles without water

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WINTON – Sustained below-zero temperatures and limited snow cover contributed to frozen water lines and water main breaks here last week. It was so cold that even the Winton water tower froze up.
The entire city of Winton was without water for an extended period of time due to multiple water main breaks. The village’s main street was dug up multiple times by Low Impact Excavators in a Herculean effort to get the water flowing again. City officials declared an emergency and initiated efforts to help residents obtain water and to keep them safe.
A 70-degree upswing from 35 degrees below zero to 35 degrees above zero early this week was a welcome sign as city officials worked to get the water tower thawed out and the water flowing again.
Residents are required to boil their drinking water for the time being as the entire system is chlorinated, flushed out and inspected by the state Department of Health before deemed safe.
The problems started early Monday, Feb. 15 when Winton mayor Kathy Brandau reported to residents that the city did not have any water. The water main breakage issue was complicated by a frozen water tower pump.
Brandau was optimistic later that day when she reported, “We were able to isolate the water (main) break and most of our residents will have water again by around 5 p.m. if not sooner. Unfortunately, on Main Street there will be residents without water until the break is repaired.”
In temperatures approaching -40 degrees, Low Impact Excavators employees were on the job all day as the cold snap continued. “They were running into difficult issues and worked into the night,” Brandau said in an update statement last Tuesday. “Our hope was to be able to have water to a portion of the town, but it looks like the water tower might have frozen. We worked with our city engineers trying all their recommendations.”
Brandau was also challenged in getting timely updates to her residents because the city’s website was down. WELY Radio was tasked with getting the word out. “Please let your neighbors know the situation in case they do not have social media. We are trying our best to keep you all informed,” she said.
Brandau reported late last Monday that the water was back on and advised residents to boil their drinking water until further notice. But, just prior to midnight, Winton residents were informed of another water main break located west of the Roadhouse.
Brandau reported early Tuesday, Feb. 16 that Low Impact Excavators was back on the scene.
Winton Utility Manager Destin Anderson said that Tuesday morning that the city’s water tower drained empty on Monday when a pump failed. “We thought the water main was fixed but when we increased water pressure it broke again in the same area,” he said. “The pipe shattered in that area.”
Temperatures barely budged all week with a thermometer reading of zero degrees out of reach. Work continued on the second water main break overnight and into the early morning of Wednesday, Feb. 17.
That appeared to fix things until reports of a third water main break in the same place trickled in late Wednesday afternoon.
At 5 p.m. that Wednesday, Mayor Brandau reported, “Winton Residents: Looks like we have a third leak in our water system. It might be another night without water. Everyone involved is working so hard for our city. I will keep you posted.” With the nightmarish conditions continuing, drinking water was made available at the Community Center. “And Porta-Potties are located at both the Community Center and at the Mailbox Pavilion. Thank you for your patience,” Brandau added.
Work on the Winton water system continued on Thursday, Feb. 18. Drinking water remained available for residents at the Community Center. A Morse/Fall Lake Fire Department tanker truck was also parked at the city center to provide water for residents to flush toilets
Former Winton water operations manager Terry Jackson reported late Friday, Feb. 19 that ice had formed in the Winton water tower, preventing the tower from filling with water.
“Winton has a floating grid system with your water pressure normally coming from the head pressure in the tower,” he said. “Since the tower is frozen, the water pressure in your home currently is the result of direct pressure from two pumps.”
By late the next night on Saturday, Jackson reported, “We continue to pump directly to provide water service to all residents in Winton. This direct pressure is capable of maintaining water pressure in your home, although limits your fire protection. It is imperative for you to take special precautions during a time of limited fire protection. The local fire departments are aware of our situation.”
The water tower was out of service until equipment was brought in to thaw the ice. City officials planned to complete water tower thawing efforts on Monday. “Bear with us for a couple more days, and consider all precautions during this time of limited fire protection,” Jackson added.
Bottled water is available daily at the Winton Community Center, from 1-4 p.m.
”Water will continue to be available until we can confirm our water is safe from a public health standpoint,” Mayor Brandau said. “Continue to boil your tap water if you are using it for drinking, cooking and making ice.”
Low Impact Excavators are putting in an extraordinary effort to alleviate the Winton water woes. The Warvin family, John, Sue Thad and Crystal related their thanks to the Winton community for their patience during the ordeal. “The way the community came together in these challenging times was truly astonishing. Everyone was looking out for their neighbors, family, friends and community, and the crew of Low Impact Excavators, Inc,” the statement read. “The deliveries of coffee, cookies, pizzas, donuts, hot chocolate, and the list goes on and on, the blessing, prayers, and thoughtfulness – is overwhelming and so greatly appreciated.”
The Warvin family added, “To the crew of Low Impact Excavators, Preston Morgan, Cody Lakner, Nick Vigilante, Jason Tomsich, we are very fortunate to have a crew like you. Through the long hours and exhaustion, the freezing temperatures, unexpected challenges, equipment freezing, frustration, the unkowns from hour to hour, your unwavering dedication to make sure we did all that we could to get the city of Winton resident’s water as soon as possible. This never would have been accomplished or possible without you.”
And they thanked their employees’ family. “We could not have accomplished what we did without having your spouses, fathers, significant others etc. on site through the long hours. We know this can cause additional pressures at home on all of you and we are thankful that we had your support through all of it. The way everyone came together makes us proud and reminds us why we live here.”

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