More water main breaks expected in Saskatoon as frigid cold continues

More Saskatoon neighbourhoods could be without running water as city crews brace for more frozen water lines.

Several neighbourhoods have already left without running water this week

The City of Saskatoon is preparing for more water main breaks as extreme cold weather continues in the city in coming days. (James Hopkin/CBC)

More Saskatoon neighbourhoods could be left without running water as city crews brace for more frozen water lines.

This week alone, frigid cold has caused water main breaks in River Heights, Varsity View, Nutana, and College Park.

Residents in Forest Grove and Caswell Hill were left without running water Monday, and the service was not restored to some residents for days.

Lack of snow worsens problem

City of Saskatoon water and waste director Russ Munro said frigid cold is pushing frost deeper underground and closer to city water and sewer infrastructure.

He explained that snow usually acts like insulation for the ground.

'When you've got that frost-infused ground it's hard like concrete — you almost have to jackhammer it all out.' - Russ Munro, City of Saskatoon director of water and waste

"We also have very little snow cover compared to what we would see in an average winter, so what we're getting is very deep frost penetration," said Munro.

"And regardless of the age of the pipe, as the frost penetrates into the ground it can shift, and when the ground shifts Mother Nature usually wins and it can lead to pipes breaking."

About 36 water mains broke in January and more breaks are expected in February due to the ongoing extreme cold.

Munro said conditions this year are similar to those in 2014, when a cold winter pushed the frost nearly three metres underground.

The frost is currently between about one to two metres below the surface, and the city's water infrastructure is between 1.8 metres and 2.7 metres underground. Munro said even brand new lines can break in these conditions.

He added that repairing broken lines is more time-consuming and expensive in winter, making the wait time for repairs likely to hit 48 hours.

Keep water for emergencies

"When you've got that frost-infused ground it's hard like concrete — you almost have to jackhammer it all out," he said.   

He recommended people keep 3.8 litres of water per person, per day, in their homes in case of emergencies.

The city will set up water trailers for areas affected for eight hours or longer, and residents can also show a form of identification including their address to access free showers at city leisure centres.

Munro said it costs about $10,000 to repair a water-main break and contingencies are in place so the city does not go over budget in a bad year.

The city's website also has tips for individuals to help stop their pipes from freezing.

With files from CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning