A rapid increase in the number of frozen waterlines has prompted city hall to pay the cost of thawing all of them -- even those on private property.
The dramatic shift in policy was made 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.
The city will now absorb the $305 cost it had been assessing private property owners if city crews found the freeze was on private property, Hull said.
Mayor Sam Katz said the policy change is not retroactive, so any property owner who received a $305 bill before last week will still have to pay it.
Katz and Hull met with reporters Monday while other members of council were briefed by the administration.
The number of waterline freezes continues to increase despite a weekend blitz by firefighters going door to door delivering notices to 3,900 residents to keep a tap running 24 hours a day.
The number of affected properties stood at 927 Monday, up from 868 properties on Sunday.
The number of properties receiving temporary water service via a connection from a neighbour also increased to 217 Monday, up from 173 on Sunday.
However, the situation hasn't reached a point where a majority of councillors is seriously considering special measures, including offering to lodge some long-suffering households in hotels.
Coun. Paula Havixbeck, who wanted a special meeting of council last week, said a majority of councillors are satisfied with how the administration is dealing with the problem, adding she remains concerned about people still without water.
"We still have more than 700 properties without water service of any kind," Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) said. "We should be at least offering them the opportunity to stay in a hotel."
Katz said he toured some affected homes across the city Sunday and found most people want to stay put.
Earlier Monday, Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) said he also opposed housing families in hotels, adding all efforts should be concentrated on restoring water service and keeping families in their homes.
Coun. Harvey Smith said he was pleased with the change in pipe-thawing policy, adding it allows city workers to promptly deal with restoring water service rather than dither about the property owner's responsibility.
Smith (Daniel McIntyre) said that in addition to the hand-delivered notices to properties in affected areas, the city will launch a radio campaign to notify homeowners about the need to leave a cold-water tap running.
Smith and Havixbeck said although the city is doing the best it can with the problem, the administration did not deal with how to prevent it in the future.
Hull said he suspects the increase in the number of affected properties from Sunday to Monday was the result of businesses in the at-risk areas being closed Sunday and not having staff present to receive the notices firefighters delivered.
He said he expects the number of newly affected properties will soon peak and begin decreasing as property owners follow the city's advice and begin leaving a tap running 24/7.
The city now believes a total of 5,000 properties are at risk of losing water service in parts of River Heights, Fort Rouge and the North End. Those properties received hand-delivered notices on the weekend advising the owners to leave a single cold-water tap running a stream the diameter of a pencil, around the clock.
The pipe freeze-ups have been blamed on the long, frigid winter, which has seen the frost penetrate deeper into the ground where the waterlines are buried. Even as the weather warms, the frost remains in the ground and incidents of waterline freezes are expected to occur late in April and into May and possibly June.
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, which hasn't happened yet.