Water outages from frozen pipes plague Calgarians and keep crews busy

Frozen pipes throughout Calgary will keep crews busy for weeks, the city's water manager says. Some residents have gone more than a week without water despite efforts by crews.

City workers struggle to keep up with stubbornly blocked waterways

More than 70 homes or businesses are without water due to frozen pipes, the City of Calgary says. (CBC)

Frozen pipes throughout Calgary will keep crews busy for weeks, the city's water manager says.

At least 10 times more pipes have frozen this year than in the past, water distribution manager Chris Huston says.

"As you know, this year's been different than most years," he told reporters Tuesday. "We've experienced a higher number of frozen services than we normally would."

A deep frost in the ground has frozen pipes, or "services," that run from the water main to the home or business.

A month-long cold snap kept temperatures below the freezing mark across Alberta, with the overnight low dropping below –30 C for days in some places.

Warm days returned in March but have done little to melt the deeply frozen ground, Huston said. In fact, melting snow and in-ground frost may cause more problems for crews.

Calgary water distribution manager Chris Huston says crews are busy with lots of underground pipes that have frozen. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Across Calgary, 74 properties have confirmed frozen services as of Tuesday. Another 25 water outages are in the queue to be assessed to see if they're frozen-pipe related.

Crews have cleared 40 cases since March 6, Huston said.

More than a week without water

The city tries to restore water within seven days, but he said some people have gone without for longer and crews haven't been able to fix the problem.

"In the end, we might have to actually dig up their service and work at it in a different way," Huston said. "We try to avoid going to the dig because that's the most expensive."

After the pipes are dug up, crews use hot water to thaw the blockage.

Typically, crews try to use electricity, hot water and steam to thaw the pipes from above the ground.

City officials cannot say how many people are without water — and note more are at risk of pipes bursting.

It has mailed letters to an undisclosed number of homeowners, asking they run their taps on a continuous stream the width of a pencil until told otherwise, "likely still four to six weeks from now," the city said in a release issued Tuesday.

Staying positive

Shelly Sochr-Joyce and her family went six days without water. Her condo board has now brought in temporary above-ground water lines wrapped in insulation and heating coils.

It's been inconvenient for the family but they're staying positive.

"My four-year-old's obsessed with the inner workings of the toilet. Every time we have to fill it up, he's right there, trying to figure out how it works," she said.

"They think it's pretty funny to brush their teeth with a cup of water, just like we do when we're camping. Just a bit more work for us, having to hand-wash all the dishes and heat water."

People with water outages are provided "care packages," Huston said. These include drinking water, water for flushing the toilets, bottled water and shower passes for their local city-run aquatic centres.

Preventing floods

To prevent floods, homeowners are being asked to clear snow and debris away from storm drains to allow water to flow off roads. If the drains are covered with ice, residents are asked to call 311 rather than attempt to remove it themselves, in order to avoid damage and injury.

Water may pool for up to two hours around drains as runoff is regulated to avoid overwhelming the stormwater system. 

Otherwise, officials suggest shovelling snow and debris away from your home's foundation, window wells, furnace exhaust vents, downspouts and eavestroughs.

They also recommend you test your sump pump and avoid driving through pooled water on the roads.

With files from Mike Symington and the Calgary Eyeopener


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