Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

We've experienced this before

Had water troubles in 1978-79

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Hundreds of Winnipeggers with frozen water pipes, thousands running their water to avoid a freeze-up, and many days with the mercury plunging below -30 C -- the winter of 2013-14?

Actually yes, but it's also what Winnipeggers faced during the winter of 1978-79.

Just weeks before Joe Clark became prime minister, while Jimmy Carter was U.S. president and days before the worst accident in U.S. commercial nuclear power plant history at Three Mile Island, Winnipeggers had endured 28 days of temperatures reaching below -30 C.

Environment Canada meteorologist Dale Marciski said that stretch of below-normal temperatures is eerily reminiscent of this winter's 27 days below -30 C. The normal number of days that cold is 12, while the highest number of such days was 51 in 1886-87.

"This winter is comparable to that (1978-79) winter. It has a lot of similarities to that winter -- there's no doubt about it," Marciski said on Wednesday.

In an April 20, 1979 Free Press story, Roger Mills, an assistant district engineer with the city, said about 2,000 Winnipeg homeowners would likely have to run their taps for another month until the spring thaw went deep enough to remove the chances of water pipes freezing.

Mills, who said while in normal years there would only be about 200 homes in the older parts of Fort Garry, St. James-Assiniboia, St. Boniface, St. Vital and East Kildonan where residents would have to run their taps all day, said that year the hardest-hit areas were Charleswood, Tuxedo, River Heights, the older part of St. James-Assiniboia, St. Boniface and St. Vital.

Why so many frozen pipes? Mills said it was because water pipes in older neighbourhoods weren't buried as deep as dictated by the city's bylaw -- seven feet, six inches. As well, Mills said the frozen pipes didn't usually happen on the side of the street with the main water pipe, but on the other side of the street where the water was piped from there to each home through a smaller pipe under the roadbed without the benefit of an insulating bed of snow on top.

A city spokeswoman confirmed the depth for the pipe is still the same in the current waterworks bylaw.

The spokeswoman said while the majority of the frozen waterlines are in older areas of the city, there are also other contributing factors, including how close the pipe is to catch basins and manholes.

Marciski said this winter's average temperature, from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28, was -20.3 C.

He said that compares closely to the winter of 1978-79 -- which reached -20.8 C on average during the same Dec. 1-to-Feb. 28 period. The coldest winter recorded in Winnipeg was 1874-75 at -23 C.

Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) said he was a kid during the winter of 1979, but he remembers how cold it was outside.

"I ran everywhere," Mayes said, noting he was in Grade 11 at the time.

"I remember it being very cold. But I have no frozen-pipe memories at all."

But Mayes said councillors have been told about 3,000 Winnipeg properties having frozen pipes in 1979.

When told where the 1979 Free Press story said the frozen pipes were located, Mayes said, "It's history repeating itself this year.

"It's areas like Riverview and Wildwood. I've had relatively few calls in my ward and none from south of Bishop Grandin. But that's where there is new construction."

And Mayes said just as in 1979, homes on the side of the street with the city's main waterline are safer than ones on the other side.

"You want to be on the same side of the street as the (fire) hydrants because that's where the city's (main water) line is," he said.

"If the pipe then runs under the street, it is the one that has been likely to freeze."

But Mayes said everyone should still heed the city's warning that if you haven't received a notice that your property is at risk of frozen pipes, you shouldn't run a tap constantly.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 13, 2014 B1

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