Greenfield — All but two Greenfield families, some of whom have had hoses connected to neighbors' water spigots since January to get any water at all, now have water flowing freely since contractors for the Milwaukee Water Works thawed their laterals.
Those last two families were expected to have water service by Wednesday.
The relentlessly cold winter caused frost to creep much deeper than usual, and it froze the laterals that bring water from mains in the streets to homes. The Milwaukee Water Works that serves Greenfield was deluged with mains bursting because of the cold and more than 100 homes that had no water at all for weeks. So, the Greenfield homes had to wait.
That wait was expected to be until May, which is what Water Works officials told some Greenfield families, said Alderwoman Linda Lubotsky who represents eight families affected.
Wanting to shorten their wait, city officials tried to thaw the laterals from above using a heated blanket specially designed to thaw the ground down to frozen laterals. The reason this method was chosen was that the city could not touch the pipes themselves to get at the blockages because the Milwaukee Water Works owns the pipes, said Richard Sokol, director of neighborhood services.
So, Cold Spring Road between 61st and 64th Streets was closed all last week as the blanket method was attempted, Sokol said. Traffic was rerouted through a neighboring subdivision.
"We appreciate the patience of the residents of that subdivision," who had to endure the additional traffic from busy Cold Spring Road, he said.
But the severe cold overwhelmed the blanket method.
"It didn't do very well," Sokol said, and after five days the city gave up on it, reopening Cold Spring Road Saturday morning.
As the city was trying the blanket approach, a plumbing company hired by the Milwaukee Water Works was getting to work weeks before expected to also help the Greenfield families.
The contractors tried thawing the laterals from inside homes, and if that didn't work, they pinpointed the ice plug from above ground and dug down to it to thaw it out, Sokol said.
Now that they again have water service, the families have to keep the taps on to keep from refreezing. That could go on for the next month, Sokol said, until the frost comes out of the ground.
Lubotsky said she didn't know if the numerous calls she made to water works officials demanding action moved Greenfield up on the repair schedule, but soon after she called the Milwaukee mayor's office, help arrived, and to a welcome reception.
"I have nothing but thank-yous to the Milwaukee Water Works," Lubotsky said Tuesday. "Milwaukee Water Works did a wonderful job, they were wonderful to work with ... They were accommodating to our residents."
Lubotsky was aware of eight families lacking water service in her district, but the final count for the entire city was 14, Sokol said.
Now that everyone should be thawed out by the end of the week, Sokol said, "The bigger issue is what can we do to prevent this from happening again."
For example, at least one of the residents along Cold Spring Road between 28th and 33rd Streets where the laterals are particularly vulnerable to freezing because they are extremely long, said he would like to have been warned to run the tap to keep the lateral from freezing.
Another resident laid blame at the city's feet. He said the road was lowered many years ago, meaning that the laterals are now not as deep as they should be and are more vulnerable to freezing.
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