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Sub zero weather freezes water lines in Colfax

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX — In case you have not heard yet — if you live in the village of Colfax, turn your water on at one faucet and leave it on.

As of the evening of February 5, Colfax residents and businesses were asked to turn a faucet on and leave it running continuously at a pencil-sized stream until further notice.

Village employees had already thawed out six frozen water laterals, said Jackie Ponto, village administrator-clerk-treasurer, prior to a meeting of the Colfax Zoning Board of Appeals that evening.

Scott Gunnufson, village president, was at the zoning meeting and agreed that Ponto and Rand Bates, director of public works, should go ahead with asking village residents to run their water.

Ponto contacted WEAU Channel 13 out of Eau Claire and asked that the request for Colfax residents to run their water be included on the 10 o’clock news.

By the next morning, the number of frozen water laterals had already increased.

Bates, along with Don Logslett, street supervisor, and Randy Valaske, owner of Tainter Machine, started working at 10 a.m. in the middle of Railroad Avenue to thaw out the lateral going to the Colfax Railroad Museum.

“If everybody will turn their water on and leave it running, we won’t have to do this,” Bates said.

When asked how long village residents and businesses would have to run their water, Bates said it would probably be for quite a while.

“At the rate we’re going, the ground won’t thaw out until June,” he said.

Although Bates was joking about the ground not thawing until June, the idea may not be all that far-fetched.

“The frost has gone down eight or ten feet under the streets, and that’s going to take a while to thaw out,” he said.

Water services that have frozen in the village are down eight feet, Bates noted.

Although this area of Wisconsin has received about 50 inches of snow so far this year — and snow generally insulates the ground and keeps the frost from driving down very far — the unrelenting sub-zero temperatures have pushed the frost down in spite of the snow cover.

Bates said Colfax has had more than 40 nights when the temperature has been zero or below zero.

If you count the days when the temperature was below zero or in the single digits but the wind chill was far below zero, the number of times it has been zero or below is well over 50.

The sub-zero weather started in early December and has continued on into February.

In the past two months, the temperature has dropped to 20 or 25 degrees below zero several times over night. Many of the other nighttime temperatures have been in the 15-degree-below -zero range.

“All we can do is keep thawing out the lines and hope that everybody gets the word to run their water,” Bates said.

Colfax residents will not have to pay for the extra water, and their water bills will be adjusted accordingly.

It is important to keep the water running through the laterals not only to keep the laterals from freezing, but also to keep the water mains from freezing and breaking.

The railroad museum’s water lateral was finally thawed out by later that day on February 6. By 5 p.m., village employees were able to pack up their equipment and call it a day.