A broken water main between Cottonwood Falls and Strong City was repaired Thursday morning. But a Boil Water Advisory is in place, as crews try to restore service safely.
“Over the course of the day, we’ll try to get Cottonwood Falls back online with service,” Chase County Emergency Management Director Scott Wiltje said.
Wiltje was making arrangements to bring bottled water from Emporia for those who need it. Older people and shut-ins would receive top priority for it.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment issued a Boil Water Advisory Thursday morning for Cottonwood Falls, Strong City, Chase County Public Wholesale Water District #26 and Chase Rural Water District 1.
The break occurred Wednesday along K-177, Wiltje said, closer to Cottonwood Falls than Strong City.
The line is overseen by Public Wholesale Water District 26, Wiltje said.
The break led to the cancellation of classes Thursday in Chase County Schools. Wiltje said a meeting is planned later in the day with Superintendent Glenna Grinstead about when classes can resume.
“To bring the kids in, we have to feed them. You have to sanitize the pots and pans to food standards,” Wiltje noted.
The break also affected Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. Bathrooms there were closed Thursday until further notice.
The Chase County Sheriff’s Office announced the trouble was traced to a 16-inch water main. With the line now repaired, workers don’t want to make a bad situation worse.
“They’ll go through and systematically repressurize the lines in Cottonwood Falls slowly,” Wiltje explained.
He compared the process to fully running a faucet in an older house.
“If you rapidly shut off the faucet, you’ll hear the pipes bounce a little bit. It’s a water hammer effect,” Wiltje said. “We’re trying to slowly recharge the lines so we don’t have additional breaks and issues.”
Wiltje had no estimate on how long the process will take. He noted the Cottonwood Falls water tower has to be refilled as well.
In the meantime, local crews have to work with the KDHE.
“Typically, a system will notify us if there’s a water line break,” KDHE Communications Director Matt Lara said Thursday. “The advisory stays in effect until the system is back functioning.”
Once a water system is functioning normally for 24 hours, samples will be taken and submitted to the KDHE for a laboratory review of bacteria.
“It can take a few days,” Lara noted.
The Sheriff’s Office posted advice on Facebook Thursday morning about how to handle water once service is restored.
It should be boiled for cooking, brushing teeth or hydrating animals. Boiling normally is not required for bathing, showering, washing clothes and operating a dishwasher.
Wiltje said he’s in consultation with Chase County Sheriff Jacob Welsh and the Kansas Department of Emergency Management. One issue is determining how much bottled water the county needs.
“We don’t want to get a semi-load of water here and then only need five pallets,” Wiltje said.
If the advisory persists for several days, the need for water might increase.
The weather forecast for Cottonwood Falls has a high of 88 degrees Thursday, slowly warming to 96 Sunday and 98 Monday and Tuesday.
Wiltje encouraged residents with their own sources for bottled water to keep using them, instead of seeking handouts from the county.
“It takes some of the burden off us, in trying to provide the general public with a case or two of water for their needs,’ Wiltje said.
This is the first water issue in Chase County since a break in Strong City caused a similar Boil Water Advisory in December 2020.
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