The City of Winnipeg is offering free showers at public pools to residents without water as the backlog of frozen waterline cases continues to grow.
As of Monday, 537 Winnipeg homes and businesses were waiting for the city to thaw waterlines, an increase of 241 in just under a week.
While the city is operating each of its three DBH electric pipe-thawing machines 24 hours a day, five days a week -- and 15 hours a day on weekends -- new calls are coming in faster than the city's water and waste department can clear off existing ones in the queue.
The average wait to thaw pipes is now approaching two weeks, though some properties -- usually with adjacent pipes that do not readily conduct electricity -- have waited more than a month for water service to be restored.
On Monday, water and waste director Diane Sacher said she could not predict when the city will be able to clear off all the calls, noting the risk of freezing will persist until the ground thaws in May or June.
'I'm not sure that would be something I would be interested in. It just seems weird'
The frost depth in the city has reached 2.1 metres in some locations, thanks to the unusually cold temperatures this winter. The ground usually does not freeze below 1.5 metres.
During a normal winter, about 100 properties experience frozen waterlines. So far, at least 619 properties have reported problems this winter.
Given the prospect of continuing wait lists for restoring water service, Mayor Sam Katz announced the city will offer free showers to frozen-pipe-affected residents at 13 city recreational facilities.
The mayor said he wants citizens to know the city is doing everything it can to restore water but understands citizens forced to live without running water are angry.
Water and waste workers are also continuing efforts to hook up frozen-out properties to water supplies from obliging neighbours. Sacher said the city has purchased drinking-water-quality polyethylene hoses for this purpose, but has had trouble reaching approximately 170 property owners who could benefit from a temporary connection.
Water pressure at both the donor and recipient property will be reduced, but residents should still be able to wash laundry and take showers, Sacher said.
'I think these are the kinds of things that can happen under the unusual circumstances'
She also acknowledged one Winnipeg home -- a Corydon Village residence -- was damaged by fire after an attempt to hook up its water supply to a neighbour whose home had no water service.
The incident took place on Saturday morning. The resident said a city worker used a blowtorch to heat up his tap, sparking a fire inside the walls of his home.
After smoke billowed into his home, firefighters arrived and knocked out a 1.2-square-metre section of an exterior wall and a small part of the floor in the interior. Smoke damage forced the resident to check into a hotel.
Sacher said the city will compensate this homeowner, as the city worker responsible for the fire was unaccustomed to hooking up one residence to another.
"I think these are the kinds of things that can happen under the unusual circumstances," she said.
Sacher said no other Winnipeg property has been damaged by pipe-thawing activities and frozen pipes are not at risk of damage.
Owners of all properties to which water has been restored have been urged to keep water running at a trickle to reduce the risk of refreezing. The city has also sent notices to approximately 1,000 property owners at risk of freezing, urging them to run water at a trickle.
If you have not received such a notice, do not run your water, Sacher cautioned.
It's not clear how many Winnipeggers on the pipe-thawing wait list will take advantage of the offer of free showers. Amanda Worden, an Elmwood resident who hasn't had water since Feb. 21, said she will continue to shower at her boyfriend's mother's residence.
"I'm not sure that would be something I would be interested in. It just seems weird," she said of showering at a public pool.
Worden said she is disappointed with the city's inability to communicate what it plans to do about the backlog.
Meanwhile, the city was scrambling to repair a water-main break in the Polo Park area Monday evening. The Original Pancake House was forced to close and the Clarion Hotel and Suites was informing its guests they, too, were without water. Polo Park Shopping Centre tweeted late Monday water was running again.
— with files from Carol Sanders
What does the city’s "solution" for families that don’t have running water say about the running of Winnipeg? Join the conversation in the comments below.