Manitoba

Winnipeg leads the way in dealing with frozen pipes, committee told

Winnipeg now leads the country in dealing with frozen water pipe problems, city administrators say as officials look back on the frozen pipe crisis in the winter of 2013-14.

Review looks back on citywide frozen water pipe crisis of 2013-14

Winnipeg now leads the country in dealing with frozen water pipe problems, city administrators say as officials look back on the frozen pipe crisis of 2013-14. 1:25

Winnipeg now leads the country in dealing with frozen water pipe problems, city administrators say as officials look back on the frozen pipe crisis of 2013-14.

Thousands of Winnipeggers were without running water as numerous pipes froze that winter, which was the coldest since 1898.

The cold temperatures caused frost to penetrate the ground at unprecedented depths across the city, freezing the underground pipes as a result.
Water and waste staff provide an update on the frozen pipes issue to members of the City of Winnipeg's water and waste, riverbank management and environment committee on Monday morning. (Bert Savard/CBC)

The city had 2,192 pipe freeze-ups that winter on the city side of water lines, as well as 113 freeze-ups of lines on private properties, according to a review presented to the city's water and waste, riverbank management and environment committee on Monday morning.

Officials were forced to come up with new practices to address frozen pipes, such as setting up temporary hoses between properties to supply water and modifying equipment to thaw lines.

Faster response times

Winnipeg is now so fast at thawing water lines, it no longer asks affected property owners to keep a trickle of water flowing from one tap — a practice it used to employ every year at some locations, city staff said.

Coun. Brian Mayes, who chairs the committee, said a lower number of calls about frozen pipes last year — despite frigid temperatures — shows how well the current system is working.

There were 223 frozen pipe reports in 2014-15, which was not the record-breaking winter of the year before, but still very cold.

City of Winnipeg crews thaw frozen pipes in the 500 block of Pritchard Avenue in March 2014. (CBC)
"It was telling that the last year was pretty bad by historical standards, but nobody really noticed because we did a better job of responding," Mayes told reporters after the meeting.

"Two years ago we had a crisis, but we've geared up, got new machinery, new technology, better planning."

There have been no reports of frozen pipes so far this season, the city's website states.

The city is also tracking pipe-thawing services in a dedicated system to ensure faster response times, and staff said they're evaluating properties with a risk of pipes freezing any time water main renewal projects are planned.

"It does sound like there are some sites that freeze every year, but we are much more on top of this than we were two years ago," Mayes said.

"Both in terms of process and in terms of technology, [we] are much further ahead."

It would cost approximately $150 million to bury all service lines that have a history or risk of their water pipes freezing, the committee was told.

Officials say crews have buried pipes at deeper depths at 33 different locations in 2015. As well, public works staff have started adding extra insulation on some roads that are particularly low and insulating at-risk sites when work is being done.

The city says it's reviewing a preliminary proposal from the University of Manitoba's engineering department for a study on soil frost susceptibility.

With files from the CBC's Sean Kavanagh

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