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Retired city worker Brian Treleaven says city hall's repeated claim that high-pressure water machines are not effective at thawing frozen city waterlines isn't accurate.
Treleaven said high-pressure water devices are difficult to use but once mastered are effective at thawing ice frozen in waterlines underneath city streets.
"I spent many evenings in people's basements in the '80s," Treleaven, who retired in 2008, said. "When we had the manpower, we'd take a hot-water machine... that's the way it used to be done."
Treleaven said he wasn't surprised when contractor Jaret Horbatiuk earlier this week announced he had jerry-rigged a high-pressure water machine to thaw frozen city waterlines at an Evanson Street home that had been without water for 29 days.
"The city used to have 12 of those machines but they were difficult to work with," Treleaven said. "They were replaced with the DBH (electrical current) machines."
Micah Cohen said he wasn't surprised either. The owner of Magikist, on Main Street, said the family business has been making and selling the high-pressure water machines to thaw frozen waterlines in cold-weather cities across the American Midwest for 30 years — and he used to include the City of Winnipeg as a client.
"This year we're sending them to Wisconsin, Michigan and Illinois," Cohen said.
"Our machines are designed to feed through the homeowner's line into the city line underneath the street, right to the water main," Cohen said. "If you get it through the curb-stop (the shut-off valve), there's no reason it can't thaw ice right up to the main."
City officials, including water and works director Diane Sacher, have repeatedly stated that the high-pressure water machines are not effective on frozen city waterlines.
The repeated denials surprised David McKeigan, co-owner of The Pyramid Cabaret on Fort Street.
McKeigan said that on March 12 city workers brought a high-pressure water machine to the club and thawed a build-up of ice inside the city portion of the waterline under Fort Street.
But city officials denied the success with the water machine at the Pyramid ever happened, claiming the freeze was contained to the club's property.
"They (city staff) determined the freeze was on the city line but they couldn't use the DBH machine so they brought in (a water-pressure machine)," McKeigan said. "They fed a waterline in at my water meter. I asked him how far it went and they said it went all the way across the street.
"They pumped in hot water. It took about 20 minutes. They said we were the first place they tried it on... They were pretty happy about it."
Treleaven said the high-pressure machines are difficult to work with because the narrow hose often can't penetrate through the shut-off valve that connects the homeowner's portion of the line to the city portion.
While it took Horbatiuk only 90 minutes to thaw the Evanson Street property, he spent several hours trying to manoeuvre the hose through the shut-off valve.
Cohen said he's advised buyers on how to get through the shut-off valve, often referred to as a curb-stop.
Mike Heyroth, director of the Rib Mountain Sanitary District in central Wisconsin, said Magikist's machines can quickly thaw ice in a waterline buried underneath a street — once you get them past the curb-stop valve.
"They thaw ice very effectively, absolutely," Heyroth said. "Once you get it through that valve, we've had it cut ice every single time, and it's very effective at doing that. But getting through that valve is the tricky part."
Treleaven said the City of Winnipeg probably doesn't currently have any staff in the water and waste utility familiar with using the water-pressure machine, which is why they claim it doesn't work.
Treleaven said if the current workforce is unable to use the high-pressure machines, the city should contact some of the retirees from water and waste who had experiences with the Magikist machines.
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"When you're in that kind of pickle and you need experienced staff, why hasn't anyone reached out to retirees," Treleaven said. "There's lot of people with experience... not that I want to do it."
Heyroth said the machine's narrow hose has to be finessed through the shut-off valve, adding it can take a variety of methods including adding a special tip to the front end of the hose that can ease it up and over washers and applying heat to the first half metre of the hose to remove the natural curve that develops.
"When the hose is pushed through the waterline, the natural curve pushes it downward and when it reaches the curb-stop it gets hung up there," Heyroth said, adding applying heat to the lead portion of the hose before it's inserted straightens it out and smooths the passage through the shut-off valve.
Cohen said he knows Winnipeg still has one of his firm's older water-pressure machines and he has recently lent them three others.
Cohen said the Magikist machines recirculate the water through a separate electrically-heated water tank. The machines also come with a shut-off valve to stop the flow of water once the ice has been thawed and until the water meter can be reconnected. The machines sell for $2,295.
The city of Milwaukee is going through its worst winter in memory and enduring frozen water lines in unprecedented numbers. Milwaukee Water Works (which serves a population of 750,000) contracts out thawing services to plumbing contractors.
"We started doing it ourselves but we were so busy with water-main breaks we couldn't keep up so we contracted it out," said Laura Daniels, a manager with Milwaukee Water Works.
Daniels said Milwaukee has had only 143 reports of frozen waterlines. And unlike Winnipeg, which continues to report new properties without water every day, Daniels said Milwaukee isn't getting any new reports -- it's just clearing the backlog.
"We've turned the corner," Daniels said.
Daniels said Milwaukee tried to use the DBH (electrical current) machines in January but found they weren't working, adding contractors pump extremely hot water into lines.
Milwaukee doesn't use Magikist machines. Instead, contractors excavate at the water main or the shut-off valve and attack the ice by pumping hot water into the lines at those points.