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Northwest Iowa Town Asks Residents To Conserve Water After Heavy Rain Affects Water System

Courtesy of CDC

After last week’s heavy rain, a small city in northwest Iowa is trying to conserve its drinking water.
High water pressure caused a City of Paullina water line to burst last week. The line feeds into the city’s wells and water tower – the main source of drinking water for the city’s 1,000 people.

Officials have since fixed and cleaned the line, but after testing on Sunday showed bacteria in the line, they’re cleaning it again.

The city has been working with O’Brien County Emergency Management to get the message out to residents to conserve water. The HyVee in Cherokee donated 10 large pallets of drinking water to the city, for officials to hand out to residents. 

"Everybody is conserving water which has helped immensely." -Paullina City Clerk Sandy Fritz

O’Brien County Emergency Management Coordinator Jared Johnson said they’ve been monitoring the situation and are trying to conserve how much water is in the tower.

“We’re trying to keep the water tower at a certain level so there is still some water available for people to wash their hands, [use the] bathroom, take quick showers,” Johnson said. 

He said officials shut off a connection point between the water line and tower so water being disinfected in the line won’t travel to the tower. 

The city expects the water system to be back up and running by Wednesday or Thursday, said Paullina City Clerk Sandy Fritz.

“Everybody is conserving water which has helped immensely,” Fritz said. “…We’ll just keep sanitizing that line and sending the tests into the lab until it’s clear and then we can hook that line back into our reservoir and that will pump back into the water tower.”

Fritz says the situation has been stressful for the city and its people.

“You’re just constantly dealing with people calling about ‘what do we do about this?’ – like the high school: ‘should we have the football game, should we get spot-a-pots?’” Fritz said. “And the carwash – they graciously said ‘you know what we’re just going to close.’ We want to get our businesses back up and running too.”

Fritz said residents have seemed receptive to the idea of taking shorter showers and not running their dishwashers.

In the 18 years she has been with the city, Fritz does not recall a water line ever going down.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.