Winnipeg's frozen pipes problem an 'emergency,' says official

The number of Winnipeg properties with no water because of frozen pipes now exceeds 700, in a situation city officials are calling an emergency.

Number of properties without water due to frozen pipes now exceeds 700

City of Winnipeg announces plans to deliver jugs of potable water to homes affected by frozen water pipes, but a couple says they'd rather see the city make good on its promises and deadlines in dealing with their frozen pipes. 1:20

The number of Winnipeg properties with no water because of frozen pipes now exceeds 700, in a situation city officials are calling an emergency.

The City of Winnipeg announced Thursday that 722 homes and businesses are without water, up from about 670 on Wednesday.

The backlog of cases is growing — on average, about 70 new frozen pipe cases are being reported to the city each day, said Diane Sacher, the city's director of water and waste.

"I call it an emergency because there's 700 people without water, right? and I think that's an emergency for us," Sacher told reporters.

"Water is important for all of us, and 700 Winnipeggers without water, we are treating as an emergency."

The frozen pipes are mostly in older neighbourhoods, she said.

Crews are completing 15 successful thaws each day, but some of the thawed pipes freeze again, she added.

Water jugs available

The city says it is now offering to deliver jugs of potable water to residents and business owners who don't have running water because of frozen pipes and cannot get water themselves.

Staff and members of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service will work with affected citizens to deliver water in re-useable 20-litre jugs.

"When we're in a situation like this, it's an anomaly and it's a weather-related event," acting fire Chief Bill Clark said.

"It's a situation that we will engage the community with to enhance the comfort level and livability."

The city also said it's adding more staff to help contact homeowners who are waiting for temporary water hoses to be connected from their neighbours' homes.

Residents without water can go to the city's website and download a permission form so crews can connect a hose to a nearby home with water.

Earlier this week, the city said it's allowing residents without water at home to use the showers at city-run indoor swimming pools free of charge.

'Such a process for everything'

But residents have been unhappy with how long it's been taking for the city to deal with their complaints, forcing them to wait days or even weeks without running water.

Among those waiting for answers are Leo and Stephanie Fernandes, who lost water access at their West End home 11 days ago.

After making it for two days at home, the couple and their four-month-old son, Joaquimmoved in temporarily with family members.

"The temperature's got to be perfect for the little guy and … it was such a process for everything," Leo Fernandes told CBC News on Thursday night.

"I tried melting snow and that was a fail, and we did the boiling water and that was a fail, so we just ended up coming here. And now we trek twice a day to go feed the dog."

According to the couple, city staff had said crews would assess their situation in three to five days. That assessment still has not happened, 10 days and dozens of calls later.

Stephanie Fernandes said while family members have been very kind and accommodating, "you still feel as though you just want to be home and with your family."

She said instead of getting water deliveries, she'd rather see the city make good on its promises and deadlines in dealing with their frozen pipes.

Business owner frustrated

Elsewhere in the city, Don McCuaig of Fastfrate Transport says he's been bringing in jugs of water to flush the toilets at his business, which has been without water for more than 16 days.

McCuaig said city staff should be dealing with people's cases faster.

"I would like somebody there that if the person answering the phone doesn't have the answers, then [there is] the option of talking to somebody a little bit higher up in the food chain and just get some information," he said.

"We can deal with facts that we know. It's the unknown that's the concern."

He added that the city should post wait times for pipe-thawing services on its website.

Meanwhile, many have been calling on the city to purchase more pipe-thawing machines, or allow private contractors to help out.

Mayor Sam Katz has said he is open to bringing in private contractors to thaw pipes, but none of the ones that have been tested to date has the technology.

Three independent contractors did try out thawing equipment in test areas, but all three failed, according to the city.

"All three contractors were unable to thaw those services," Sacher said.

"We'll continue to research that. But believe me, if there were contractors able to do this work, we would have them working on this for us."

Some homeowners getting calls from city

Sacher said an additional 595 homes that are at risk of having frozen pipes are being contacted by phone.

City staff are calling homes based on cluster trending analysis of where the frozen pipes are, she said, adding that staff are having significant difficulty in getting in touch with people.

However, some residents say they haven't gotten calls while their neighbours have.

"I would be concerned if there was a different standard," said Glen Lenchuk, who hasn't received a call from the city even though his neighbour two doors down has.

Lenchuk said his neighbour was told they'll be reimbursed for part of their water bill if they keep a tap running to prevent their pipes from freezing.

But he said if the city does not call him, he'll be on the hook for any water he runs to keep his own pipes from freezing.

"Three months of running water would be about a $500 bill, and that's pretty significant if some people are being charged and other people aren't," he said.

Lenchuk said he will have to run a trickle of water, regardless of whether or not the city calls him, in an effort to prevent his pipes from freezing.

Sacher said the city is not recommending that all homeowners run a stream of water, but only those who have been contacted or whose pipes have been thawed.


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