Gifford water tower may have to be replaced
GIFFORD — Seventeen days after their water treatment plant was heavily damaged by a tornado, Gifford residents learned that they no longer have to boil their water.
The village's public works director, Jess Childress, drove a sample of the village's water to the Illinois EPA laboratory in Springfield on Tuesday.
"Normally we just mail it monthly, but to expedite things he drove it over there and it passed just fine," said village trustee Dustin Ehler. "He hand-delivered the sample on Tuesday and within 24 hours we had our results back."
The boil order was lifted Wednesday afternoon.
"It is amazing," Ehler said. "It means that we have the right temporary equipment back and hooked up."
But now the village, hit by a tornado on Nov. 17, is faced with the likelihood that its water tower will have to be replaced.
Village board members voted Thursday night to apply for two separate USDA grants: to make minimal, temporary structural repairs to the water tower, and to build a larger tower next to the water treatment plant.
The repairs to the existing water tower are estimated to cost $80,000, while the new structure would cost about $800,000, according to Greg Crowe, an engineer with MSA Engineering of Champaign.
While the old water tower has a capacity of 50,000 gallons, the new structure's capacity could be as large as 150,000 gallons.
The board met in the Gifford State Bank building, because the old village hall was condemned as a result of tornado damage.
"We've applied for it, and we feel very confident that we'll get some funding to offset the cost of that new water tower," Ehler said. "If this grant with the USDA looks imminent — and it looks very good at this point — now is an opportune time for us to get all our water treatment and water containment up to speed."
The treatment plant on the east side of Gifford is gradually being rebuilt, he said, although it's operating beneath a yellow- and white-striped tent ringed by straw bales.
"As my two 3-year-olds say, they want to go see the circus," he joked.
"The building's already been ordered. All the components to bring the water plant back to 100 percent, they're ordered; they're on their way. It's a waiting game now," Ehler said. "You're waiting for the equipment to show up and be outfitted. And then there's the transitional period. In a perfect world if we had our water treatment plant back close to operational by sometime in January or February, that would be a reasonable goal."
The boil order was lifted after the village had portable pneumatic pressure tanks hooked up to the water system.
"There's a lot of people who don't understand how municipal water systems work. In a lot of times, the quality of water isn't the problem; it's the pressure behind it," he said. "When the tornado went through and destroyed our water treatment plant, we lost our ability to keep our pressure consistent. What happened was that the pneumatic pressure tanks that were loaned to us and put in place to get more consistent water pressure and keep it maintained and to keep the EPA happy."
Ehler said he's not worried that frigid temperatures in the forecast will cause problems at the temporary water pant.
"The water coming out of the ground from the wells comes out at between 50 and 55 degrees and there's almost a constant flow of water, enough of a flow so that the odds of it freezing aren't really that good. It would take several days of subzero temperatures and little water consumption for that to freeze, he said.
Ehler estimated that "probably between 200 and 300" customers are served by Gifford's water plant.
"We probably lost a third of our customers with the tornado damage," he said.