Frost keeps pushing deeper into Winnipeg's frozen terrain

Winnipeg's frozen ground has now reached as deep as eight feet (2.5 metres) in some places, though it could be even deeper, say some plumbers.

Diane Sacher talks frozen pipes and frost to reporters

CBC News: Winnipeg at 6:00

7 years ago
Diane Sacher, Winnipeg's water and waste department head, talks to reporters about the city's frozen water pipe situation. 7:47

Winnipeg's frozen ground has now reached as deep as eight feet (2.5 metres) in some places, though it could be even deeper, say some plumbers.

That's uncharted territory as far as city staff can tell.

The last time the cold and frost — and frozen pipes and broken water mains — was this bad was in 1979, but the record-keeping at the time wasn't very good, so there aren't detailed reports.

"There is not a lot of information there about how deep the frost was. So we don't know how deep it could go," said Diane Sacher, director of the city's water and waste department.

"What we do know is it's continuing to grow so it could get deeper."

Earlier this month, city officials said the ground was frozen as low as nearly seven feet (2.1 metres), but some plumbers working on thawing pipes said they believe it is actually closer to nine feet (3.0 metres).

The city has received more than 2,000 frozen water pipe reports this winter, and 1,300 remain on the waiting list for thawing.

Another 6,000-plus properties have been identified as being at an increased risk of frozen pipes.

Oh, bother

Doug Mackie, whose pipes froze three weeks ago, channels Winnie the Pooh when describing how he's managed to deal with it.

"It's a bother," he said.

The 73-year-old Mackie has had to wash his dishes at Woodhaven Community Club and shower at Centennial Pool.

"I'm sort of pretending that this is a big campsite here, and they've got one central water facility, toilet facility, and I'm coming over and using them,” he said.

Mackie thinks the city will get around to thawing out his pipes in a week or so. He doesn't mind the wait and doesn't blame the city.

“I think the city's partly in shock. I think the city didn't expect these kinds of things," he said.

"They're reeling. From my point of view, looking at it, I think they're probably doing the best job they possibly can.”

Thawing troubles

Despite the frost line going deeper, Sacher doesn't expect it will affect major lines that service fire hydrants and water mains.

She said crews have tried all sorts of equipment to thaw out those pipes, but much of it simply doesn't work.

"Most of the freezing is under the pavement on the city's side of the pipe and, despite us trying [various] equipment and despite numerous contractors trying it, no one has had success in thawing frozen services on the city's side with that equipment," she said.

Crews are finding the only equipment that appears to have any success is the so-called DBH units, which use electricity to thaw the pipes. But the city only has three of those and has been unable to locate any more to purchase or borrow from other municipalities.

Sacher said the city will try any kind of equipment that contractors or the public suggests, as long as it is safe and reliable.

Hose lines available

One of the quick, albeit temporary, fixes is for the city to run a hose line from a home with frozen pipes to a neighbouring home with running water. There are about 500 of those installed at the moment.

Sacher said there are appointments available Thursday for anyone who wants to get that set up.

There could be a number of reasons why the city is not getting as many of those requests as they had expected, Sacher said.

Perhaps homeowners can't convince a  neighbour to hook up, or they are staying with friends or family, or they can't be around for the appointment times from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.