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City giving 'disaster' grants to residents who had frozen pipes

As part of what it deems the new reality of climate change, the city will hand out grants of up to $1,000 to hundreds of residents whose pipes froze this year.
The city of Hamilton has started a program to give "compassionate grants" to homeowners who had frozen pipes this year. (CBC)

As part of what it deems the new reality of climate change, the city will hand out grants of up to $1,000 to hundreds of residents whose pipes froze this year.

Hamilton city hall will use tax dollars from a reserve to give "compassionate" grants to about 569 homeowners who were without water this year because their water services froze.

It's a problem the city needs to get used to as climate change progresses, said Dan McKinnon, head of Hamilton Water.

"We're in uncharted water," McKinnon told the city public works committee before they approved the grant program on Monday. Councillors and staff acknowledge the program will have to continue in future years.

Many of my constituents were initially told "hopefully you'll get your water back in three to five days." Then it was seven to 10 days, even families without for 17 days.- Coun. Tom Jackson

As weather gets more extreme, city staff say, frozen pipes will become a greater danger in Hamilton. Numbers for the last two years show that it already is.

In 2015, the city fielded 1,213 calls from homeowners impacted by frozen water services, most of them from January to April. Of those calls, 569 homes had problems with pipes on municipal property. In 2014, there were 674 calls.

From 2009 to 2013, the city only averaged about 30 such calls per year.

The city had to deliver water 1,863 times this year to homeowners who were without water for days because of frozen pipes. The year before, it only made 204 water deliveries. Before that, it was less than one per year.

The city has deemed this year's incidents "disasters" so homeowners can apply for the new Residential Municipal Disaster Relief Assistance Program for Frozen Water Services.

Under the program, homeowners impacted by frozen pipes on municipal road allowances will be reimbursed. Those homeowners had to hire and pay plumbers to prove that the frozen pipe was on municipal land. That happened in about 565 cases.

Homeowners have 120 days to apply after council ratifies the decision on June 10.

Coun. Tom Jackson of Ward 6 defended the use of tax dollars.

"Many of my constituents were initially told 'hopefully you'll get your water back in three to five days,'" he said. "Then it was seven to 10 days, even families without for 17 days.

"In light of all of that, I am more than happy and feel justified to support this program."

The program will stay in place for future years. But the city hopes with better outreach and education, it won't be as necessary.

The city will work harder to educate people to run their water to prevent pipes from freezing, said Andrew Grice, director of operations. It will also release videos about prevention, house-to-house connections and other city services. 

The city also dealt with 209 water main breaks this year compared to 277 in 2014 and an average of 150 per year from 2009 to 2013.

samantha.craggs@cbc.ca@SamCraggsCBC

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