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Mayor hints at hotel solution: 677 properties going waterless

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Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz

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As the number of properties with frozen water lines continues to grow, Mayor Sam Katz said it's time to consider moving some families into hotels.

There were 677 properties across Winnipeg without water Wednesday afternoon -- up from 616 on Tuesday. At the beginning of last week, there were just under 300 properties without water service.

Katz said the situation for families who've been waiting for close to four weeks must be unbearable, and the city has to do more than just promise to give them a temporary water supply.

"I think this is a phenomenal hardship on people. You can't cook for your family, you can't shower... You can't do anything of the things we all take for granted," Katz said.

"In my opinion, I think we're extremely close (to covering hotel expenses) now."

Katz said he can't imagine going without water at his home for weeks, as many Winnipeggers have done.

"After four weeks, isn't that enough?" the mayor said. "That's something I do believe has to be considered."

The cost of providing hotel accommodations will be a factor in any discussion, he conceded, but added that has to be weighed against the circumstances.

"It's easy for someone to say that's not (the city's) responsibility, this is an act of Mother Nature," Katz said. "If you were in that situation, what do you believe is reasonable and fair? We will have a discussion on that.

"No decision has been made, but at some point in time you have to start considering that."

Meantime, Katz said the city is concentrating on providing temporary water supplies to the close to 700 properties where water lines are frozen due to the deep frost.

He said the city has ordered extra hoses from an Ontario manufacturer, adding the city is committed to speeding the time it takes to connect a property to a neighbour's to ensure a temporary water supply can be provided.

"That's what we're focusing on right now," he said.

However, the city is moving slowly on that front. Only two additional properties were provided with a temporary water line between Tuesday and Wednesday while 61 more properties had frozen water lines.

A civic spokeswoman said of the 677 properties with frozen water lines, 77 are being supplied with a temporary water connection from a neighbour's home compared with 75 properties with temporary lines on Tuesday.

City officials said this week the situation is likely to get worse for Winnipeg property owners, with no respite until May or June.

Katz said a fourth electrical thawing machine has gone into service, but it's smaller than the city's other equipment.

A civic spokeswoman said the newer machine, which arrived Feb. 28, is only being used on short frozen water lines. A fifth machine has been ordered and will go into service when it arrives.

Katz said the city has been unable to borrow equipment from other cold-weather municipalities because they are in the same situation or worse.

"Anyone within reasonable proximity to us is having these similar problems," Katz said. "Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis -- it's happening everywhere."

People reporting no water Wednesday said they were told they'd have to wait more than two weeks before thawing equipment can be dispatched to their properties. They have to wait five days for someone from the city to verify the problem is in a city water line and another 12 days before thawing equipment arrives. Many experience much longer waits.

While several American municipalities have advised their customers to let one tap run 24 hours a day as a preventive measure, civic officials here are giving that advice only to property owners whose water lines have frozen in the past.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 6, 2014 A4

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