The spring thaw is slowly taking shape in northern Illinois. For most residents, it means saying goodbye to many weeks of freezing temperatures and piles of snow. But for others, it means getting back a basic necessity.
In the front yard of Gary Corless' Ogelsby home, a bucket rests near the curb. That bucket is being held in place by a brick, which Corless removes before showing me what's hidden underneath.
There sits the cause of Corless' recent troubles: His property's water main valve box. In mid-February, it became so frozen that water to the home stopped flowing for nearly a month.
“We had about four inches of ice on top, about two feet of snow. I shoveled the snow off and chipped the ice away and I used some guns for that tube,” Corless said.
When he got things corrected, Corless finally got his water back. But that wasn’t before he had to endure several weeks of carrying heavy jugs of water into his house. Corless, who suffers from a number of ailments, says it became very difficult at times.
“It was hard for me to lug up the steps enough water to flush the toilet, which every time you do, it’s three gallons basically,” Corless said.
Unlike many other residents in northern Illinois, who simply were unlucky enough to have the pipes around their home freeze, Corelss’ situation was exacerbated by the city's attempt to help a neighbor who lost his water because of the cold. A fire hydrant was flushed in hopes of getting water flowing again. But it only spread soon-to-be frozen water into Corless’ front yard.
Jeff Blanco is Coreless’ neighbor. He says that, when they realized it would be a while before the water might come back, they thought about hooking up a hose to Corless’ house. But they quickly found out that all the frozen water in his front yard left their neighbor in the same situation.
So Blanco says, that’s when a new routine set in.
“Thank goodness I have a shower at the office, so every morning I would shower there. My wife would go to her mother’s house in LaSalle,” Blanco said.
Blanco says, like his neighbor, he had to get used to hauling many gallons of water into the house every day.
"It's been a rough month. To add insult to injury, about two weeks in, we had a bat in the house. My wife said she couldn't take it anymore," Blanco said.
In recent days, the long nightmare for Blanco and his neighbor have ended. Their story is a familiar one in the greater LaSalle area. Dan Potthoff runs the Illinois Valley YMCA. He says over the past couple of months, they allowed people with no water to shower at that their facility. He estimates that nearly 40 people took advantage of the offer.
“If you had to endure a situation where you didn’t have access to water, you can only imagine that it frustrated those people,” Potthoff said.
There was some frustration. But there was also some anger. In some communities, residents were upset over the response by local governments to help fix the problem, especially when the pipe in question fell on city property. In some towns, municipal leaders say they exhausted all efforts, and that the ground was too frozen to do anything else. But in cities like LaSalle, officials acknowledged that long term planning could prevent similar problems in the future. They say they’ll focus on getting older pipes, not buried deep enough in the ground, further below the surface.
While some residents aren’t happy with how local governments have dealt with the situation, others, like Jeff Blanco, agree that the taxing winter left communities out of options.
“I just think we need to be conscientious about running water during these winters,” Blanco said.
Blanco says, hopefully, that’s something they won’t have to do again for quite awhile.