The City of Winnipeg says crews are working around the clock to restore water service for hundreds of homes and businesses that have frozen pipes, but it could take weeks for everyone to get their water back.
At least 1,000 properties across the city have been affected by frozen water pipes this winter, city officials said Tuesday.
About 300 of those locations are currently on a waiting list for thawing, but 30 to 40 more complaints come in every day.
Among those waiting for their frozen pipes to be thawed is Angela Mondor, who is on day eight without running water.
“Even still, I will walk up to the tap and try it and go, ‘Aw man!’ It’s habit, right?” she said.
Mondor has been heating up pots of snow on her stove.
“It’s not gross water, but it’s certainly nothing you would want to drink,” she said.
Meanwhile, her dishes are piling up, dirty clothes are being carted to a laundromat, and Mondor is losing patience with the city.
“I can’t rely on the city as much as I thought I could,” she said.
Crews working 7 days a week
Tim Shanks, a field service operations engineer with the City of Winnipeg's Water and Waste Department, says city staff have never seen so many frozen pipes this winter.
He said the problem is frost that has been deeper in the ground this winter. In some cases, the frost extends as far as two metres underground.
The city has assigned all available staff and equipment to thaw the frozen water pipes, including three specialized machines and dedicated crews that are working seven days a week.
The city brought in an extra overnight crew earlier this month, but the list of addresses waiting for thaws continues to grow.
"Our current lag time right now is at least a couple weeks. It's 10 to 14 days," Shanks told reporters.
"That may extend a little bit here until we can assess our new level of work here. Like, we've added this extra shift, so it's hard to estimate but … we're talking weeks."
It's difficult to estimate when crews can get to each frozen pipe case, he said, as one thaw could take 20 minutes while another may require hours.
"Some house services we can hook up a machine and it can be thawed in 20 minutes, half an hour. Other services can be hours and hours. We've had commercial services that have taken 14 hours to thaw," he explained.
Shanks added that the city has specialized pipe-thawing equipment for only three crews, and that type of gear cannot be rented or purchased.
Shanks said in a typical winter, the City of Winnipeg needs only one crew to thaw frozen pipes.
Crews are going to properties on the thawing list in the order they were reported to 311, but priority is being given to schools, hospitals, day cares and the homes of residents with special health needs.
Still, it could still be days before people like Mondor see any running water. She said she is bracing for a 12-day wait.
“I can't understand why or what's stopping them from getting more crews or bringing people in — contract workers or something to help out with the problem,” she said.
Business owner frustrated
Kurt Shmon of Imperial Seed Ltd. on Arlington Street agreed that the city should hire private contractors to help thaw out pipes.
Shmon said his seed laboratory, which needs water for germination testing, has been without water since Feb. 18.
Employees have been hauling in two dozen five-gallon jugs each day, he said, adding that he's worried the lab could be without water for another seven to 10 days.
"It's definitely frustrating. We do have a fairly large staff here, so we're busy hauling water so that people can wash their hands," he said.
"In the seed laboratory, there's a lot of dishes and stuff and trays that need to be washed on a daily basis."
Meanwhile, those who have already had their frozen pipes thawed out advised to keep a trickle of water running to keep the pipe from freezing up again.
Shanks said the city will adjust water bills for the extra usage as long as the frozen section of pipe was on the city's side of the property line. Property owners own the section of pipe that lead to the building, he noted.
Budget cuts to blame
The city's largest union says years of budget cuts and tax freezes are to blame for the long delays.
CUPE head Mike Davidson said departments haven't been able to hire the number of people they need in order to deal with problems as they come up.
"I talked to someone from emergency services in one area [and] he says they hired 12 people but need 20 more. We're running with, instead of having six people do a job, we're down to maybe two and a half," Davidson said.
"You can only do that for so long."
Davidson said specialized staff is needed — people who can thaw pipes and fix water mains.
He said he's been warning the city for years that staffing cuts and not filling empty positions will result in disaster.