More than 600 people are waiting for city crews to come thaw their pipes after an extremely cold winter. Businesses and homeowners are contending with weeks-long waits to have their frozen pipes thawed and water service restored.

A University of Manitoba engineer says the brutal winter is a lesson for city planners.

“Engineers and planners have to take into account the extreme conditions,” said Professor Marolo Alfaro, the associate head of the U of M’s civil engineering program. “You bury your pipe deeper than the maximum depth of frost penetration.”

Alfaro said that means pipes should be buried at least 2.4 metres or eight feet below ground.

“In some cases, that can be impractical, so you may end up [with] one solution [which] is to make the pipe bigger,” said Alfaro.

This year, city officials say the ground has frozen as low as 2.1 metres, but some plumbers working on thawing pipes say it’s actually gone closer to three metres.

Most of the ice-clogged pipes in Winnipeg are in older neighbourhoods because pipes in newer developments are typically buried deeper.

Plumber offers advice

“Basically what you have is cold winning the battle,” said Larry Stefanec, the owner of Parson’s Heating and Plumbing.

Stefanec said there’s little homeowners can do to protect themselves when the freezing occurs off of their property, but once water is restored to your home, there are a few things that can be done.

“Insulate the pipe, maybe run heat tracing to an area that can’t be insulated and heated,” said Stefanec. “Anything that has to do with your plumbing system should be in a warm area and not exposed to the elements.”

For now, city officials are contacting hundreds of homeowners and advising them to run their water if their pipes have frozen in the past.