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Water service restored in Rock Falls

190,000 gallons of raw sewage removed from pump station

Published: Friday, Feb. 14, 2014 9:50 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Feb. 14, 2014 12:44 p.m. CDT
(Philip Marruffo/
Rock Falls Mayor Bill Wescott speaks during a news conference Friday morning.
(Philip Marruffo/
Karen Nelson of the Red Cross carries cases of bottle water Friday morning a the distribution center at Rock Falls City Hall.
(Philip Marruffo/
Jim Helle of Folsom's Bakery in Rock Falls, speaks with the Whiteside County Health Department Friday morning. Jim opened for business after the phone call.

ROCK FALLS – Water service in Rock Falls was restored at 9:30 a.m. today, Mayor Bill Wescott said.

The water can be used for showering and cooking, and toilets can be flushed, Wescott said during an 8 a.m. media briefing at City Hall, but there is a boil order in effect until at least Sunday morning, so the water remains undrinkable.

Water distribution centers opened at 7 a.m. and will close at 8 p.m., the mayor said, to distribute bottled water. Water samples will be collected at 20 locations throughout the city and be tested at a Dixon facility.

The distribution centers will reopen at 7 a.m. Saturday and stay open as long as possible. The portable toilets will be kept at the distribution centers as well, Wescott said.

Those sites are at Rock Falls High School, Rock Falls Middle School, Thome Elementary School, and the Rock Falls Community Building.

The results of those tests are expected back by 9 a.m. Sunday, Wescott said, at which point a boil order could be lifted.

A failure to the control panel at the 12th Avenue pump station caused a sewage backup Thursday afternoon, Wescott said, and water to the entire city had to be shut off around 3:30 p.m.

The cause of the failure wasn't known, the mayor said this morning, but around 4:20 a.m. today, after about 190,000 gallons of raw sewage was removed from the pump station, Rock Falls sewer department workers were able to access the pump area of the lift station and make the necessary repairs.

On Thursday night, the city estimated that 22,000 gallons of raw sewage had to be removed and trucked to the sewage treatment plant a mile from the lift station. The number was revised today, Wescott said, after the work was completed, adding that there were no spills during the transportation.

The covers of the pump station motors were removed, Wescott said, showing that the seals held. Sewer department staff blew liquid nitrogen into the motors, and when they were then turned on, all four pumps became functional, the mayor said.

Two of the pumps were running, but all four were capable, Wescott said, adding that only two pumps normally run, but four pumps create redundancies in the system.

Getting water back

Once water service is restored, the water lines must be charged, Wescott said, and to speed up that process, the Twin Cities Fire Department will open fire hydrants throughout the city.

The city will follow the fire department's work at the fire hydrants with trucks to salt the roads, Wescott said.

As residents turn on their faucets, there may be a rush of air, the mayor said, but water should eventually flow. The Environmental Protection Agency told the city to increase the chlorine levels in the water, Wescott said, so some residents may notice a chlorine smell they don't normally have.

"It's part of the process," he said. "It's part of the requirements to be done. So that's what we are going to do. If you use that cook, you can boil it. It should not be a problem for you whatsoever."

Restaurants were being contracted by the city this morning, Wescott said, to review the protocols for restoring and using water.

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