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More than 700 Winnipeg properties now waterless due to frozen pipes

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Another day, another 45 properties without water.

And it’s only going to get worse.

Glum-faced city officials stood outside the Mayor Katz’ office earlier this afternoon and said the total number of properties without water because of frozen water lines now stands at 722.

And the numbers of new affected properties far outpaces the number of properties where water services are being restored.

"The list will continue to grow because the frost is continuing to deepen as long as there are sub-zero temperatures," Diane Sacher, director of water and waste, said.

Sacher said she expects the number of affected properties to climb daily – probably 70 new properties every day.

And, Sacher said the city is only able to thaw out about 15 properties every day.

Katz would not speculate further on the possibility of moving some families into hotels.

Katz said he expects the accommodation issue to be discussed among politicians soon, but added he hasn’t been contact by any member of council to pursue that option.

Coun. Paula Havixbeck later formally requested Katz to hold a special council meeting to deal with the accommodation issue.

Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) said she estimates the cost for hotel accommodations would be about $1 million, but added the city should easily find that amount within a $1.7 billion budget.

Sacher blamed the daily increase on weather conditions – the frost is burying itself deeper in the ground and affecting more homes faster than the city can thaw them out.

"The circumstances that Mother Nature has dealt us this year are just so extraordinary that we couldn’t have been prepared for this," Sacher said.

Katz and Sacher said other cold-weather municipalities in Canada and the U.S. have been contacted but they can’t spare the equipment.

"When you go from Saskatchewan to Quebec or parts of the United States, if anybody has any type of equipment that can do this, they are already using it and they all need more," Katz said.

Sacher said the city has now decided to warn an additional 595 property owners, where their neighbours are without water, that they are at risk too, and advising them to let a tap run 24 hours a day.

Those properties will have their water bills adjusted.

"We’re continuing to do that kind of analysis on a daily basis to determine whether there are any other additional properties (at risk) where we will provide that notification," Sacher said. "We’re looking at pavement locations, proximity to other structures that might increase the (ground) frost penetration, age of homes.

"We’re looking at any other factors to find out if there is any other correlation that might help us predict," additional pipe line freezes.

Sacher said the city will not follow the example of several larger American cities facing the same situation, which are advising all their residents to leave at least one tap running 24 hours a day to prevent their lines from freezing too.

Sacher said preliminary analysis indicates Winnipeg’s water and sewer system would be overwhelmed if everyone left a tap running.

Sacher said city staff are contacting those American cities to learn how that practice is affecting their systems.

"Our analysis is telling us if every Winnipegger were running water, that we’d have issues with the combined sewer systems," Sacher said, adding that could lead to widespread basement flooding in certain areas.

"There’s no point in wasting that water and compromising safety risks on our sewer system."

Sacher also said that the city has been working with private contractors who’ve claimed they have equipment that can thaw out frozen lines.

While the private contractors’ equipment was able to thaw out smaller lines on private property, Sacher said in every case, using three different kinds of technology, the private contractors were unable to thaw the larger, frozen city lines buried underneath city streets.

"The vast majority of frozen services are occurring on the city side of the (property) line that is under the pavement," Sacher said, adding the city continues to research if other private contractors have technology that can help.

"The plumbing contractors have great success in thawing frozen pipes that are between the (water) meter and the property line… but when they try to thaw on the city side, from the property line to our water main under the pavement, they have not been successful."

For homes not yet connected with a temporary water line to a neighbour’s property, the fire department will now begin delivering 20-litre (5-gallon) reusable jugs to those homes requesting it.

The city has provided temporary water service to 89 properties.

Sacher said more could be helped but they are not contacting the city to let them know they want the temporary services.

"We have experienced significant difficulty in reaching people," Sacher said, adding there is no waiting list now for properties to be connected to a temporary water line.

Katz promised that anyone currently requesting a temporary water connection, and who already has the support of their neighbour, will have the work completed within 24 hours of making the request.

"If you contact us right away, we can get you water service almost immediately, as long as you have a cooperative neighbour," Katz said.

 

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 5:10 PM CST: Write-thru

5:30 PM: Adds clarification

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