Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

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A brutally cold, long winter has overwhelmed the city's capacity to respond to frozen water mains and lines. More than 1,000 properties will be without piped water for several weeks, waiting for help to thaw lines, and 5,000 more are at risk. The backlog and the fact most of the frozen lines are city owned has led to the city to suspend charging homeowners $305 for thawing lines on their own property.

That's not sitting well with those who, prior to the policy's suspension, were stuck with a bill their neighbours, now, won't be paying if their lines freeze. Timing, alone, has caused an uneven application of policy. City council should vote to forgo charging all property owners for thawing of private lines this winter.

City hall now should be looking at how to prepare for the possibility the extraordinary becomes predictable. Global warming will see more frequent weather extremes. With a large portion of city waterlines buried within reach of frost, many Winnipeggers may revisit the troubles created in the hardest winter since 1978-79.

The sheer number of vulnerable properties makes a quick solution unaffordable for a city buckling under an infrastructure deficit. But to do nothing, especially since the city can no longer buy thawing equipment, is unacceptable. The city needs a strategy. It does not have data on how many kilometres of pipes were buried near the higher end of the 1973 waterworks bylaw (seven feet, six inches to nine feet), so it cannot estimate the cost of sinking the lines deeper. The depth of the frost this year means, at the least, it should revisit its 1973 bylaw -- seven feet, six inches has been shown to be too shallow.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 14, 2014 A8

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