The depth of the frost has already impacted numerous residences and businesses in Decorah, and the problem could continue for weeks, according to Rick Bohr, assistant water and sewer superintendent at the Decorah Water Department.

Meanwhile, rural Winneshiek County residents haven't been experiencing any water issues but have been dealing with some frozen septic systems, Winneshiek County Sanitarian Doug Groux reported.

And higher temps aren't providing any immediate relief.

"The warm weather has nothing to do with it. When it's warmer, the frost goes down before it comes up. The frost is 4 ½ to 5 feet down," Bohr explained.

The city had two water main breaks on Friday - one on Hilltop Drive and another on Upper Broadway at the entrance to Phelps Park. Similar problems are occurring throughout Northeast Iowa.

The city of Decorah and the Decorah Water Department have been reminding residents to continue to monitor the water temperature in their homes and businesses due to the depth of the ground frost this season. If the water temperature falls below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, there is a risk water lines will freeze.

To measure the water temperature accurately, residents should run only the cold-water faucet for about five minutes, then fill a glass and take the temperature using any thermometer that will measure at least 30 degrees.

If the water temperature is below 40 degrees, the homeowner should run a thin stream of water from one of their faucets. This may need to be done for an extended period of time or as recommended by a plumber. In some cases, the city may cover the additional expense of continually running water. Bohr said there are about 140 homes in Decorah where water is running due to low tap temperatures.

Basements and crawl spaces must also be heated to prevent water line freezing, a news release from the city said. Because of the high number of frozen service lines and water mains, residents should call their local plumber to assist with service line issues. Call the Water Department at 563-382-5171 or city hall at 563-382-3651 to determine if there is a broken or frozen main in your area if you experience water problems or for more information.

Bohr said about 15 properties have experienced frozen water services this week.

"There are a couple of circumstances where the frozen service has gone into our main and frozen the main," Bohr said referring to a section in Minowa Heights and along Iowa Avenue.

At those locations, homes where the main is completely frozen have been hooked up temporarily to adjoining houses with water service by garden hoses.

Bohr said residents are using a few different methods to thaw their service lines, including a steam machine -- a "glorified pressure cooker" that thaws service lines. The water department has two of the machines it allows plumbers to use. A Cresco business also has a machine that heats water to 60 degrees and jets water into the line at 300 pounds per square inch to open the line.

In some cases, welders have thawed frozen lines.

"A few people do that. It's a dangerous method ... it can melt fittings under the grounds and some cities have experienced fires," Bohr said.

Bohr said residents should remember if they have no water service, they can still flush toilets if they get water from a neighbor or another source and fill up the toilet tank each time they flush.

Bohr said the city has ground temperature probes to monitor soil temperatures and determine when the frost is coming out. He said residents will be notified when it's no longer necessary to run their water.

Septic systems

Groux said the best thing rural homeowners can do to prevent freezing septic systems is to make sure they don't have any water leaks in their homes.

"The continual slow drain of water from the house to the septic tank will freeze up and close up the pipe and prevent drainage to the septic so leakages should be addressed," he said.

For residents with septic issues, Groux recommended putting a tarp over the septic tank and covering it with mulch or straw bales to create insulation and raise the temperature in the tank.