Sigh of relief; city survives harrowing time

The water came back on in Rock Falls because of hard work and quick thinking by city leaders and employees. Now, the city must find out why the sewage system failed, and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Published: Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

Rock Falls city leaders, city employees and thousands of residents have just gotten through the 18 most harrowing hours of their recent past.

Water service was shut down about 3:30 p.m. Thursday because of a failure at the city’s 12th Avenue pump station, which caused a massive sewage backup.

No one had running water. People were advised not to flush their toilets or do anything to send water down their drains and into the backed-up sewage system.

Businesses had to close. Normal living routines were greatly disrupted.

The city mitigated the loss of water by establishing bottled water distribution points and making portable toilets available.

And the hours ticked by.

About 9:30 a.m. Friday, after city workers removed about 190,000 gallons of raw sewage (ugh!) from the pump station and fixed the problem, the water was back on.

Whew! What a relief.

Rock Falls residents weren’t totally in the clear, however.

Mayor Bill Wescott said Friday morning that a boil order would be in effect until at least Sunday morning. That means the water was considered undrinkable right out of the tap.

However, the same water could be used for showering and cooking, and – hurray – toilet flushing.

The city has already pinpointed what caused the pump station to stop working – the failure of the control panel.

Now, what needs to be discovered is why, exactly, that control panel failed.

We assume city leaders will fully investigate the cause of this massive inconvenience for Rock Falls residents and businesses.

We encourage them to make public their findings, and do everything within their power to learn from this episode to make sure that such an inconvenience does not occur again.

Wescott said that the pump station has four pumps, but generally only two pumps operate at any one time. The other two exist as a redundancy.

Does that failed control panel also need a backup? Is some redundancy needed there? That’s a question that should be explored.

Turning off the water to an entire city was a drastic measure, but it appears to be the absolutely correct decision.

Because of the growing sewage backup, the city had to stop wastewater from entering its underground network of sewer pipes. The water shutoff likely hastened the city’s ability to clear the pump station and make repairs.

We’d like to add that the city’s response was appropriate. Its two-pronged approach – to serve the public’s needs while working hard to fix the problem – lessened the overall hardship.

Water and sewer are not glamorous city services, but Rock Falls’ 9,000-plus residents were reminded, during 18 harrowing hours, how essential they are.

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