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Sewage backup prompts city to shut off all water

Jerry Rodriguez shuts off the lights in the windows of La Famila Thursday afternoon 
after the health department told the restaurant to close down.
Jerry Rodriguez shuts off the lights in the windows of La Famila Thursday afternoon after the health department told the restaurant to close down.

ROCK FALLS – A massive backup of raw sewage at its main lift station led the city to shut off water service to all of its customers Thursday afternoon.

Service still was off Thursday night, with a best-case scenario having water turned back on Friday morning.

Rock Falls Mayor Bill Wescott said the city was working to pump the sewage out of the room, which is three floors underground. Once that work was completed, Wescott said, the city would determine what caused the failure. For some reason, the sewage stopped being pumped into the city’s sewage facility.

“We hope it’s a simple thing to get the pump going,” Wescott said, adding, “We’ve never had a situation like this before in our city’s history.”

He said he hoped the fix would be quick, but said that getting out all of the sewage would take some time.

Related story: Water shutoff causes shutdown of stores, too

All city water users had their service shut off about 3:40 p.m. Thursday. The decision was made, the mayor said, to make sure water and sewer usage didn’t make the problem at the lift station worse. The breakdown was at the city’s new lift station, which went active July 28, 2011.

There was a power outage in the lift station area about noon Thursday. City officials think the problem might be related to that outage, but aren’t sure. Emergency generators and alarms did not go off in the station, Wescott said. About 2:30 p.m., a “no-flow” alert went off.

Even though people who have private wells still can use water, the city in a news release urged them not to, since they’re connected to the city sewer service.

The fire department was asked to dump city hydrants to empty the system.

Meanwhile, the city set up emergency operation centers where residents could use a portable toilet and receive free drinking water. Those sites are at Rock Falls High School, Rock Falls Middle School, Thome Elementary School, and the Rock Falls Community Building.

Porta-Potties were on trucks in the parking lot at City Hall as Wescott spoke Thursday night.

If people wish to contact the city, call 815-625-2151.

Wescott assured residents that the water shutoff wouldn’t affect the fire department’s ability to fight a fire. Off-duty members of the Rock Falls Fire Department were called into work in the afternoon. The department has one tower with water where tanker trucks could fill up. And, Wescott said, between the Rock Falls and Sterling departments, enough tanker trucks were available.

Stores throughout the city were closed. Schools were waiting to see if they would be able to be in session Friday.

All schools, businesses, restaurants and bars were notified by the Whiteside County Health Department to close until further notice.

Rock Falls District 13 and East Coloma-Nelson said the status of classes at their schools Friday is uncertain. Both districts said they would make announcements by 6 a.m.

Rock Falls High School was not scheduled to be in session Friday because of a Teacher’s Institute day.

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