Wayne White | Managing Editor

OVERBROOK—Water is flowing again for Overbrook residents after two major leaks shut off the town’s supply for almost two days last week. Officials reported Saturday that a state issued boil advisory had been lifted after the system had been flushed and recharged following repair of the leaks Jan. 14.

Residents first noticed loss of pressure early Wednesday morning, and city staff discovered that all water had leaked out of the town’s two water towers.

“By 6:30 or 7 in the morning it became evident there was no water supply,” Overbrook Mayor Don Schultz said Monday.

By that afternoon, almost all of the town’s water customers were without water pressure and the search continued for the leak.

Overbrook City Clerk Jim Koger said the city lost at least 125,000 gallons – the combined capacity of the towers.

With assistance from technicians from the Kansas Rural Water Association (KRWA) and Rural Water District No. 5 personnel, city staff continued to search for the leak, as Koger worked with Osage County Emergency Management (OCEM) to procure drinking water in case it was needed.

“We teetered on the edge of really, really needing their help,” Koger said.

That afternoon, the crew believed they had found the leak, when a tire on a car parked at the town’s grocery store fell through the pavement.

“The pavement collapsed right in front of O’Bryhim’s (Thriftway),” Koger said. “The hole was big enough for a front tire to fall down into.”

After excavation in the parking area, two leaks were discovered, but with that portion of the water line isolated by shutting valves, water pressure still could not be maintained in the system.

That evening, Gary Armentrout, a KRWA technical assistant, reported to the city council that pumps were operating but no pressure was evident and water was not filling the water towers.

“We’re still concerned about what is going on,” Armentrout said. “We keep shutting stuff off. There’s no water in the water tower, but we can hear it dripping inside.”

Shortly afterwards, another leak was found on the east side of Maple Street, Schultz said.

“They found a six-inch line broken near the swimming pool,” Schultz said. “Water was traveling underground and running into the storm drain. It was almost impossible to find.”

Schultz said the crew had continued to isolate sections of the system and pressurizing lines when someone finally heard running water.

“After digging in the snow, they heard water running,” Schultz said. “At that point they were able to shut off valves and reroute the water.”

After the leak was found, “it went very well,” Schultz said. “We were able to get everything fixed in good order. Thursday, lines were flushed, and Friday morning samples were sent by noon. Results were back by Saturday and the boil advisory was lifted that afternoon.”

Schultz said it was believed the breaks were weather related - caused by freezing or ground shifting.

“We know that probably one of the weakest parts of our water distribution is the cast iron mains that run north and south along Maple Street,” Schultz said.

Schultz said he was pleased with cooperation from citizens during the incident.

“There really was a lot of good understanding from community residents,” he said. “It was quite a good example of community spirit.”

He said that although bottled water was made available at city hall for drinking, residents who took advantage of it only took what was necessary.

“Most people were really considerate. People were aware of the fact to not take more than they needed,” Schultz said.

He said some people took water to neighbors who could not get out of their homes.

“It was really a prime example of one person helping another,” he said.

The mayor also noted some residents were resourceful in dealing with the predicament.

“I heard a lot of creative stories, such as people who got snow and melted it in their bathtub, then dipped it into their toilets to flush them,” Schultz said.

Schultz said several businesses that served food were ordered closed by the Kansas Department of Agriculture due to sanitary reasons.

At Wheat State Pizza, manager Craig Meier reported the restaurant closed Wednesday and most of Thursday.

“Things were a little inconvenient Thursday and Friday using bottled water,” Meier said this week. “But we had everything flushed out and had everything going Saturday. Now that things are back to normal, it makes life a lot easier for us.”

Overbrook Attendance Center also closed Thursday, but held school Wednesday even though there was no water pressure.

“We had some water for a little while, but most of the day we did not have water,” said OAC Principal Gary Foulke. “We got by the best we could.”

Foulke said bottled water was obtained for students to drink, and drinking fountains were taped off. Due to the type of plumbing fixtures at the school, toilets could not be flushed, though, and it was decided that school should be cancelled Thursday. Friday the school was able to reopen, although students were provided bottled water for drinking.

At Brookside Retirement Community, the staff brought in bottled water and a local farmer offered a large tank to provide water for sanitation reasons.

With the water turned back on, the nursing home avoided evacuation, Schultz said.

“The state had notified them that without full running water and fire protection, it could come to a time to ask them to evacuate,” he said. “They literally carried water to flush stools.”

Denise Hoback, Brookside’s executive director, said her staff worked together as a team to overcome the difficulties.

“We had family members come in that said they didn’t even realize we didn’t have water,” Hoback said.

She said the nursing home has a state required plan in place for such emergencies, and staff followed it as written.

“You really don’t know if the plan you have in place will work, but you have a starting point,” Hoback said. “It actually went pretty smoothly.”

Hoback noted RWD No. 5 assisted Brookside in obtaining water for sanitary purposes.

“It took the whole community working together to get us that water,” she said.

Hoback said ongoing communication with OCEM and the city of Overbrook helped Brookside ease the situation.

“I am very pleased,” she said.

Schultz said communication was one of the obstacles faced by the city during the emergency situation.

“There’s not one set way to communicate with everyone,” Schultz said. “It was a learning experience for us, especially for me.”

He said the city used its Web site and a sign in front of city hall to inform residents of the situation.

“It’s hard to immediately let everyone know what’s going on,” he said. “Most communities would say that’s a challenge in situations like this.”

Schultz said the hardship was overcome by cooperation of many people, including citizens, the rural water association, the rural water district, Elk Township, and the construction company that repaired the broken lines. He said there were so many people to thank for assistance, he could not list them all.

“There were just as many calls of people offering support as people calling wondering about the situation,” he said. “It certainly is a good feeling to know our community is understanding, and that on a little scale, people turn out with same kind of energy and support as they do in big disasters.”