City leaders in Stillwater and the surrounding communities are beginning to feel a sense of relief as the area pulls out of a near-record cold snap that stressed utility systems and made delivering basic municipal services a challenge.
Temperatures are expected to be above freezing for the first time in more than a week when it hits 35 degrees in the Stillwater area on Friday.
But the thaw brings its own set of problems because that’s when property owners will find many of the pipes that froze and burst during the extended frigid weather.
Utility workers in Stillwater, Perkins and Cushing have been working extended shifts and working overtime to repair broken service lines and shut off service to buildings with frozen pipes.
Stillwater City Manager Norman McNickle said water crews have responded to calls for shut-offs at quite a few buildings with frozen plumbing. They’ve also had to deal with broken city water lines.
Working in sub-zero wind chill required more people because staff had to be rotated every 15 minutes and more vehicles, which served as warming stations.
“Our people have busted their butts,” McNickle said. “There are some service lines that our folks have had to stand in the water, in the ditch in the biting cold.”
He expects to get a lot more calls as things thaw.
Perkins also had to deal with some major leaks, City Manager Bob Ernst told the News Press. There was a major leak in a vacant building when one of the 4-inch lines feeding its sprinkler system broke and flooded the structure.
“There was water coming through the bricks,” Ernst said
Stillwater avoided a water shortage Monday when workers were able to thaw at least two pumps that deliver raw water from Kaw Lake to the City of Stillwater’s treatment plant.
Ernst had similar concerns when Perkins faced the prospect of a blackout. He wasn’t worried about having enough water, because the city’s water towers were full, but he was worried about having a generator to keep the water circulating so it wouldn’t freeze.
Ripley also dealt with water issues this week, which caused contributed to Ripley Public Schools being closed.
Payne County Emergency Manager Jeff Kuhn said as he understands it, there were pressure issues, possibly created by a combination of limited capacity in the municipal wells, increased use to prevent faucets from freezing and a pump that went down, either from mechanical issues or because it froze.
Cushing has also been dealing with broken water lines and expects to have more as it thaws, City Manager Terry Brannon said.
Payne County isn’t the only part of the state with concerns about the weather’s impact on its water lines.
Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt announced Wednesday that the city’s water utility was seeing twice its normal winter time demand. That, combined with leaks from frozen pipes, impacted the water supply across the city, including several hospitals.
In Wakita, a town located near the Kansas border north of Enid, the municipal water system was offline Wednesday due to frozen valves.
Community Health Center, a long-term care facility and senior retirement apartment complex, took to Facebook to thank the local fire department for using its tanker truck to deliver potable water as two of the town’s municipal employees braved the cold while getting wet, to restore service to the town.
Trash collection is delayed in most communities because of road conditions.
Yale announced its service is suspended for the time being due to weather. The previous week’s pick-up was also missed, some residents complained.
Stillwater’s waste management department had caught up after skipping some neighborhoods following an ice storm the previous week. But some routes may have been skipped following snowfall on Sunday and Tuesday, McNickle said.
Trash delivery will run on Saturday in Stillwater to catch up. They would have run on Sunday but the dump is closed, he said.
Stillwater was the only community in Payne County expected to implement a temporary blackout to balance the power supply across the Southwest Power Pool but Cushing and Perkins both had concerns.
Smaller communities like Yale, Glencoe and Ripley didn't face the same prospect due to their limited impact on the grid, Kuhn theorized.
"Shutting off Glencoe probably wouldn't amount to much," he said.
McNickle said after two false alarms the previous day, the Stillwater was asked to save 14 megawatts of power Tuesday morning, which required shutting off power to about 7,500 meters for an hour.
The Southwest Power Pool lowered its Energy Emergency Alert to Level 1 Wednesday, but McNickle warned that could change at any time depending on supply and demand.
He cautioned residents to be prepared for the next two days, just in case.
The greatest threat will come in the morning hours when demand consistently peaks. He expects the threat to pass as temperatures move above freezing.
“We’re almost out of the woods,” McNickle said. “Hang with us.”
Brannon said Cushing came very close to having a blackout but was able to save 5 megawatts of power by asking some of its larger commercial customers to voluntarily shut down. The City of Cushing also closed the public library to save power and kept the Senior and Youth centers closed.
Brannon told the News Press he couldn’t stomach the prospect of shutting off power to residents, many of whom are older, and he praised the commercial customers for their willingness to help the community.
“They didn’t even blink,” he said.