Peabody and Hillsboro work together to keep water flowing to customers

Peabody and Hillsboro combined forces to solve water plant issues in order to keep water reaching customers. The problems went on for nine days but was ultimately able to be repaired.

Thanks to social media and local gossip in small towns, everyone knows any time there is the smallest inconvenience with a power outage or water shutdown, and people love to complain about how the service their hard-earned money pays for isn’t being delivered. But sometimes, the customer has no idea just how close to a crisis they were and how very hard their cities worked to keep them from ever having to experience the slightest inconvenience.

This happened in Marion County recently when the water plant had an issue beginning on June 15 with a 24-inch valve, which restricted flow of water into the distribution system. The approximately 40-year-old valve likely had a gasket come loose and wrap around the internal valve mechanism.

The plant can typically run about 600 gallons of water per minute without any issues, but suddenly, it was only able to do around 60. The plant holds 550,000 gallons easily, but getting it out to the towers was now an issue. Not only did they have to fix the problem, but the plant staff had to keep the water supply going for all of its customers.

Thanks to the quick thinking of Water and Wastewater Superintendent Morgan Marler and all the teamwork of the Peabody and Hillsboro city departments, the staff developed a work-around solution, bypassing the broken valve temporarily with pumps.

“I found a 24-inch butterfly valve with a gearbox on it that was restricting flow, and then chip valves had fallen apart inside and were restricting the flow. It was complicated, though, figuring out the logistics of trying to fix them, get parts and do the repair while also keeping the water going. So I reached out to local contractors, engineers, city workers and everyone I could think of. We got creative. Thankfully, everyone was willing to listen to my ideas and also contribute their own,” said Marler.

For the first few days, they were running the water through firetrucks, but they had to work at sterilizing everything that would be touching the water to make it safe and then they had the fire department monitoring it.

“Ben Steketee’s guys took two-hour shifts to make sure the pump wasn’t overheating, since it was a delicate type of pump. They even had to do overnight. By Monday, we decided it was really labor-intensive and didn’t want to chance breaking the pump. We started looking for a bigger pump than any of us had. We called all over the State of Kansas, but we couldn’t find one that was certifiable for potable water purposes. So we used one we bought, got new hoses for it and bleached all the connectors and pieces and anything we needed for it. This finally gave us a little breathing room by about Monday night or early Tuesday morning,” Marler said.

They worked 12- to 18-hour days for nine days as they searched for large valve and pipe replacements while also keeping water flowing to the town water towers. Eventually, a new valve was found and a contractor was located and brought in along with his team of workers to replace that valve and an additional valve on Wednesday, June 22.

“We had all kinds of people and places we were reaching out to all over the state. We were finally able to gather all the parts and put it together and get it all flowing again. I had to have engineers check my math and check my theories and make sure it was OK to cut those old valves and pieces out and put new ones back in.

Amazingly, there was no disruption of service or restrictions needed.

“That is the whole idea is that customers can flush their toilets and take showers and not worry about it working. We always strive to make sure our customers are comfortable and we don’t have to shut down or reduce their water, but sometimes it is unavoidable,” said Marler. “We try to do our jobs the best that we can with the resources in front of us without raising the rates. Our customers are getting hit with the high prices of everything right now. We don’t want their utilities to increase, so we operate with that in mind. We do everything as efficiently as we can.”

Marler is quick to credit those she works with as part of those resources.

“We relied heavily on the City of Hillsboro staff. They always step up to the plate and are always ready to help. And it’s always nice to work with the Hillsboro City Administrator Matt Stiles, the mayor [Lou Thurston] and city council who help and don’t micromanage just for everyday operations, not to mention emergency,” said Marler. “Dale Dalke [Hillsboro Street Supervisor] is always the first to show up, and he was this time, too. And my team was amazing. I do like a challenge, and I have a team who likes a challenge. They have a lot of stamina and they get things done.”

Stiles agrees.

“Whenever you have an emergency situation, the quality of the team in place makes all the difference,” he said. “Our team shines in emergency situations where it is all hands on deck. They get the job done.”

In fact, they got the job done so well that no one even got a chance to know there was a problem, let alone post it on social media or gossip about it.

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