Residents of 38 homes on Laxdal Road who have been without water many times in the past three weeks can take heart -- the City of Winnipeg has heard them and they've jumped the queue for water-main repairs.
City officials announced at a press conference Monday 400 metres of water main on Laxdal Road in Charleswood will be "the first priority on the list of mains to be replaced" and work will start "no sooner than late April or early May."
Frost must be out of the ground and overnight temperatures must not be below freezing so the temporary water-service lines do not freeze.
At least 16 homes in the Charleswood neighbourhood were without water on Sunday from about 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. when the city shut it off to repair a broken water main. Police were called when frustrated residents confronted city workers, but there were no arrests.
Geoff Patton, manager of engineering in the city's water and waste department, said external corrosion of 40-year-old pipe is responsible for 12 breaks between Dec. 29 and Jan. 19, interrupting service to up to 38 homes between Beiko and Ridgewood avenues.
"This water main is a 1970s cast-iron water main that has had a very good history of repair, but (the) unprecedented number of repairs that have occurred the last few weeks have caused us to place this water main in the highest priority for our work in 2014," Patton said.
"We're happy in terms of the patience and understanding of the residents in this time of service disruption on Laxdal. We feel for the residents of Laxdal and we're doing every effort to restore the service on Laxdal."
He said about 400 metres of water main there will be repaired at a cost of about $500,000. The main on that stretch of road was being monitored for replacement in 2015 but was added to the 2014 renewal program due to the number of breaks.
He said the city is in the design phase of replacing the cast iron with new, blue polyvinyl chloride C-900 piping. It's the same piping the city has used for the past 30 years and has an estimated lifespan of 100 to 125 years.
During the renewal, Patton said the city will provide a temporary above-ground water service to each house affected. That's why the project can only be started when overnight temperatures are above freezing.
The renewal program will take four to six weeks. Meantime, Patton said the current main will be maintained. "If another failure occurs, another repair will be done."
Patton said the 1970s cast-iron pipe in the Laxdal Road area, commonly used at the time, is a "thinner-walled pipe... more susceptible to corrosion" from components in Manitoba soil. He said there's no way to tell if such piping will fail in other areas.
"Each water main will react differently. It's made at different times and every street is under different conditions, different soils," he said.
Tim Shanks, the department's field-service operations engineer, said workers will dig the ice and snow out of the ditches along that stretch of Laxdal so there won't be overland flooding as the snow melts.
Patton said it's "unusual" in Winnipeg for one area to experience so many water-main breaks.
"Right now, we are monitoring about 48 locations for our 2014 program," he said, adding more than half meet the leak-frequency standard for renewal.
To warrant a water-main renewal, a main in one city block must fail between four and five times within the previous five years, Patton said. He said such a leak frequency indicates the main is at the end of its life.
"What I intend to do, while we're working on the main, we're going to salvage a piece of the pipe and try to understand what's happening on Laxdal to see if we can do some lessons learned for future pipes, to see if there is something unusual about this pipe or the soil that we can learn from."
He said Winnipeg's water department has about 250 kilometres of cast-iron pipe from the 1950-1970 era, 10 per cent of its inventory.
The budget for 2014 water-main renewal in the city is $16 million, with an increase to $18 million proposed for next year.