Rural Water Uses Pipe-Freezing Tech to Assist Nebraska Town

AXTELL, Neb. – When Mike Stanzel arrived to assist the Village of Axtell with a leak, he never expected that after scheduling around a high school basketball tournament and closing 13 valves the leak was no closer to repair. Ultimately, the repair required the excavation of a service line and the use of a line freezing kit to repair the leak.

“There is no such thing as a simple leak,” said Stanzel, a Circuit Rider for the Nebraska Rural Water Association. “Axtell had a small leak turn into a nightmare.”

Jason Stoddard, the Water Superintendent for Axtell, was notified of a leak in an old machine shop. When he arrived, he found the first in what would be a series of problems.

“The water service line had no curb stop,” Stoddard said, referring to a valve near the street that allows water service to be cut off in emergencies. “I don’t know why it was built that way, but it has probably been like that for 70 years.”

The Superintendent contacted the Nebraska Rural Water Association for assistance. Stanzel was in the area with his tools. Rural Water Circuit Riders are roving water industry experts that provide training and technical assistance to rural communities.

“I got there in the afternoon and we looked at the system map,” Stanzel said. “We closed four valves. We had to use a jackhammer to uncover two of them because they had been covered with asphalt.”

They next tried using a freezing kit to stop the water flow enough to repair the leak. The freezing kit pumps carbon dioxide through a special sleeve to create an ice plug that stops the water flow so leaks can be repaired without having to shut off all service or drain the entire system. Unfortunately, the leak was flowing too much to create an ice plug.

“You can’t freeze running water,” Stanzel said.

They consulted the system map again. The next valves they would need to close would also cut service to the high school while they were hosting a basketball tournament.

“We decided to come back the next day when school was out,” Stanzel said.

When they returned the next day, they attempted to slow the leak by closing more values up the street.

“We found some more valves, but none of them shut it off,” Stoddard said.

They closed off nine more valves, but it was not an easy process.

Many of the valves were inoperable, misaligned or buried,” Stanzel said. “It was obvious we needed a different plan.”

They located the service line and excavated enough to expose the line.

“We had to pull out the sidewalk and dig down to the line,” Stoddard said.

Once the line was exposed, they used a line crimp to slow the flow so that the freezing kit could create an ice plug. With the flow stopped they could repair the leak and install a curb stop.

“This town is extremely fortunate to have the various equipment necessary to make these kinds of repairs: jack hammers, concrete saw, backhoe and a dump truck,” Stanzel said.

Axtell was also fortunate to have the support of Nebraska Rural Water.

“Mike was a big help,” Stoddard said. “Everything he did helped out and he came up with ideas that I wouldn’t have had. It wouldn’t have gone as smooth without Mike.”