Frozen pipes plague cities from Fargo to Edmonton

The City of Winnipeg has been plagued by frozen pipes, with more than 900 people waiting for city crews to thaw pipes and restore water to their homes.

City of Winnipeg deals with largest number of frozen pipes

A plumber prepares a pump to shoot water into an incoming city water line in Minneapolis after the pipes froze. Plumbers have been inundated with calls across the Canadian Prairies and in a handful of states. (Jim Mone/The Associated Press)

The City of Winnipeg has been plagued by frozen pipes, with more than 900 households waiting for city crews to thaw pipes and restore water to their homes.

City crews have been operating three pipe-thawing machines seven days a week, but the average wait time is now between 12 to 17 days.

Mayor Sam Katz said the city has been asking other jurisdictions to borrow machines but so far has had no luck.

Frozen pipe situation by city


One of Winnipeg’s closest neighbours has also been dealing with frozen pipes. A total of 21 people have reported frozen lines so far this season, and another 22 have been told to run their water to prevent freezing.

The town operates one pulse machine for thawing. The city’s chief administrative officer, Jim Fenske, said officials tried to rent another but were told all of them were being used by the City of Winnipeg.

Fenske said this was the first winter in years Selkirk had to deal with frozen pipes. Two years ago, the community lowered all the lines to avoid freezing.

So far response times are within the same day to have pipes thawed, with about three thawed per day. But, Fenske said, one person has waited nine days because of a fire hydrant issue.

Grand Forks, N.D.

The City of Grand Forks hasn’t had a problem with frozen pipes this season, according to the city’s manager of operations.

“Our frost only went down about two or three feet,” said Roger Huston. The city does not have equipment to treat frozen pipes, but instead rely on local contractors if pipes freeze.

Fargo, N.D.

The City of Fargo has had to deal with frozen pipes this season, but not on the same scale as Winnipeg.

According to Ben Dow, the city’s director of operations, Fargo has had 225 frozen pipes so far this season.

“24 hours is the longest people have to wait, but we are trying to get them thawed on the same day,” said Dow. He said the ground is frozen to about the six foot level in Fargo.


Regina said they’re dealing with the worst year for frozen pipes in about 35 years.

The city’s water and sewer manager John Ullrich said so far, the city has had 44 frozen lines on the city side of the property line compared to an average of about five per year.

The city doesn’t own any of its own thawing machines and instead contracts that out.

Ullrich said the City of Winnipeg did contact them for help, but Regina doesn’t have the equipment to lend out.


In Saskatoon, water main breaks have been the major source of aggravation this season.

Mark Rogstad, a city spokesman, said there are dozens of homes without water due to the breaks, and some breaks have four to five day waits for repairs.

Since Jan. 1, the city has had 131 watermain breaks.

“It’s been a terrible winter,” said Rogstad.

Saskatoon doesn’t rely on outside contractors to help them out. They have offered affected residents free showers at the city leisure centre.


Officials with EPCOR Utilities in Edmonton said the city is dealing with the same situation as many other cities across the prairies.

“We have watermain breaks and frozen services, but we’re doing very well,” said Tim le Riche, a spokesman for EPCOR.  “We’re not in the position where we’re able to lend [thawing machines] because all our equipment is completely deployed.”

Le Riche said the city has had success with a hydro-vac, where crews drill a hole at the curb and pump hot water.

Madison, Wis.

Madison has been plagued by frozen pipes this year, with more than 275 calls for thawing services since Jan. 1. On average, the city gets zero to five calls for thawing services in an entire winter season.

City officials said right now there is no wait time for thawing because everyone has been thawed, but at the height of the problem, the wait was two to four days.