State to look into unprecedented federal aid for water main breaks

By: Madeline Anderson Email
By: Madeline Anderson Email

Published: Monday, April 21, 2014 --- 7:50 p.m.

Water utilities around the state have had their hands full.

"It was a winter that really took its toll across Wisconsin," said Madison Water Utility spokesperson Amy Barrilleaux.

In Madison, bitterly cold temperatures combined with an already-aging infrastructure, contributed to a spike in water main breaks.

"On a typical year in the first quarter, we spend about $200,000 on main breaks, frozen surface laterals, that kind of thing," she said. "We budget $1 million for the entire year. This winter, we spent just over $700,000 in the first three months of 2014."

Plus, she says additional costs will carry over into the summer.

"First the cost for patching all of the roads where we fixed all 267 main breaks," Barrilleaux said. "Also, we're only just beginning to credit folks who have been running their water basically since February."

However, there could be some relief from the federal government. For the first time in the state's history, the Wisconsin Department of Emergency Management might apply for federal aid to offset the cost of this winter's water main breaks. Officials are still in the early stages of gathering cost estimates from local governments to find out if the state qualifies for assistance. If we do, we'll only be the second state to do so.

"I don't know how easy it's going to be to get federal money for this winter," Barrilleaux said.

Despite the prospect of outside help, Barrilleaux isn't counting on it. Instead, she's relying on the reason we're facing this problem in the first place, the weather: "We're hoping for a mild November and December of 2014."

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