A rapid increase in the number of frozen water lines has prompted city hall to assume all cases are on city property and will pay the cost — even if it’s discovered the freeze is on private property.
The dramatic shift in policy was made in the middle of last week to eliminate a seven-day delay before homeowners could book an appointment to get a temporary water connection, said Randy Hull, the city’s emergency preparedness co-ordinator.
"We are assuming all the calls are frozen (city) lines," Hull said during an afternoon news briefing.
Hull said the city will now absorb the $305 cost it had been assessing property owners if city crews discovered the freeze was on private property.
Mayor Sam Katz said the change in policy is not retroactive, meaning any property owner who received a $305 bill before last week will still have to pay it.
Despite a weekend blitz by firefighters going door-to-door delivering notices to 3,900 residents to keep a tap running 24/7, the number of water-line freezes continues to increase.
The number of affected properties now stands at 927, up from 868 properties on Sunday.
The number of properties receiving temporary water service via a connection from a neighbour has also increased from 173 on Sunday to 217 today.
Coun. Harvey Smith said he was pleased with the change in policy, adding that allows civic forces to promptly deal with restoring water services rather than dither about the property owner’s responsibility.
Smith said that in addition to the hand-delivered notices to properties in the affected areas, the city will also launch a radio campaign to notify homeowners about the need to leave a cold water tap running.
Hull said he suspects the increase in affected number of properties from Sunday to Monday was the result of businesses in the at-risk areas being closed on Sunday and not having staff to receive the notices delivered by the firefighters.
Hull said he expects the number of newly affected properties will soon peak and begin decreasing as property owners follow the advice of the city and begin leaving a tap running 24/7.
The city now believes another 5,000 properties are at risk of losing water services in parts of River Height, Fort Rouge and the North End. Those properties received hand-delivered notices on the weekend advising owners to leave a single cold water tap running the diameter of a pencil around the clock.
The situation has been blamed on the long, frigid winter, which has seen the frost penetrate deeper into the ground where the water lines are buried.
Even as the weather warms up, the frost remains in the ground and incidents of water-line freezes are expected to occur late in April and May and possibly June.
Councillors were briefed on the situation this afternoon, but it appears there is not enough support to hold a special council meeting to propose any temporary measures, including accommodating some residents in hotels.
Hull said there is no need to declare a state of emergency, adding that would only be done if the city had exhausted all its resources and was unable to continue, but it hasn’t reached that point yet.
Frozen Water Line Updates
927 — Number of properties on the list for thawing frozen water lines.
217 — Number of temporary hose lines installed by the city.
1,566 — Total number of properties impacted by frozen water lines since November.
639 — Number of properties where water lines were thawed and full service restored.