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Residents asked to conserve water while crews rescue robot stuck inside Green Bay’s water pipeline

Updated: Jun. 25, 2021 at 4:00 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - If you were planning to start in on your weekend to-do list, like running the washing machine or dishwasher, watering the lawn or washing your car, you’re being asked to start Friday night or wait until Sunday.

The Green Bay Water Utility is requesting people in Green Bay, Ashwaubenon, Wrightstown, Hobart and the Town of Scott to conserve water use all day Saturday, June 26, so they can retrieve a robot.

Friday, crews were preparing to open one of the two main transmission lines that bring water to Green Bay in order to reach the robot stuck inside.

“Not to have a break like December 29th, 2012, when it went 80 feet in the air. That’s what we’re trying to avoid,” says Green Bay Water Utility General Manager Nancy Quirk.

To avoid images that resemble Old Faithful sending water into the streets of Green Bay, every 8 to 10 years the utility inspects its main 36-inch pipelines, looking for broken wires that signal problems or could lead to leaks, lack of water or even water quality or health issues.

Quirk says any of that would be a big problem, so this week the utility began an inspection by placing a robot, called a pipediver, inside the pipeline.

They sent it cruising through the water looking for trouble, but it found unexpected trouble.

“When we put it through the first one, it got stuck at a butterfly valve, and they could not get it out, even by trying to change flows and stuff. It’s stuck!” says Quirk.

It’s something Quirk says has never happened here -- and maybe not anywhere else in the country, either.

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Friday crews started prepping the site where on Saturday morning they will cut a hole in the top of the pipeline and send a person in to retrieve the robot.

“You just kind of go with the flow, right? You run into stuff like this sometimes, and you have to make the best of it and work through the issues,” says Quirk

But it takes everyone’s cooperation. Water can’t flow through that pipeline during the process, leaving a little more than half the usual amount of water available to the community.

RELATED STORY: Green Bay Water Utility requests water conservation Saturday as crews dislodge robot

Quirk says, especially during our recent dry weather, water usage averages around 28 million gallons a day coming into the city.

They chose Saturday to perform this work because that’s the day with the least amount of water usage.

In order to make sure hospitals have a good supply, and there’s enough pressure in hydrants if there’s a fire, the utility is asking everyone in Green Bay, Ashwaubenon, Wrightstown, Hobart and the Town of Scott, who rely on these pipelines, to conserve water.

“We are asking all of those communities to help us by not sprinkling that day. Maybe you could do your laundry tonight or on Sunday instead of Saturday. Maybe you could run your dishwasher at a different time,” explains Quirk.

For the big users, the utility has been working the phones and asking for a lot of cooperation.

“The fire departments have agreed that they will not do practice drills that require water. Our big users have said that they’ll plan their cleaning of equipment and things to do before the shutdown and after the shutdown, and also the parks department has agreed to shut the splash pads down in the city to reduce water use,” adds Quirk.

She says this is a quantity, not quality, issue and expects no safety concerns nor any need to boil water.

Stay with Action 2 News for updates over the weekend once crews rescue the robot and the water supply returns to normal levels.

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