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Warmer forecast won’t bring relief for Calgarians with frozen water mains

Ellen Nielsen now has water flowing into her home, but only thanks to the kindness of her next-door neighbours.

The St. Andrews Heights resident received a letter two or three months ago warning her that her water mains had been identified as being at risk for freezing in cold weather.

The letter asked her to keep a tap running at a low rate during the winter months, in order to keep the water moving through the pipes.

“It has been since that time running 24/7,” she said. “But on Sunday, it quit running.”

She checked her basement but found no problems there, confirming her suspicion that her water main had frozen under ground.

On Tuesday, the city told LiveWire via email that they’d received more than 80 frozen water main calls since March 1. They’d received 10 all of last winter. The city said they’re struggling to keep up.

Once Nielsen had confirmed that the problem was underground, she contacted the city, but said the process has been confusing.

First a 311 operator told her she had to change the type of water shut-off tap in her home before she could do anything.

“Before the plumber arrived, a city crew arrived, and they said ‘we’re here to work.’ I said I thought you can’t do anything until I get this ball valve changed. And they said ‘well, we can, from the street.'”

That crew tried to apply heat to the water main valve near the sidewalk, but to no avail.

A plumber was adding insulation to this hose running to Nielson’s home on Wednesday morning

The next day, there was a disagreement between her plumber and the city crews over whether or not the city needed to close the valve before the plumber could attack the problem from inside the home.

Finally, Nielsen resorted to tying into her neighbour’s water line via a garden hose outlet – something her neighbours were kind enough to agree to.

Nielsen said she was told by staff at her ward councillor’s office that the number of people in her situation was unusually high this year, but that doesn’t make her more understanding about what is taking crews so long to fix her problem.

“I think they should have people prepared to come on board to help resolve this,” she said.

Roger Janes, service manger for Pete the Plumber, said he’s been hearing from customers with this problem. Occasionally a lack of water flowing into the home can be a problem with the valve, but it’s more likely to be frozen when the problem crops up this time of year.

He said warm weather isn’t going to necessarily solve the problem either.

“Frost stays in the ground longer,” said Janes. “Especially now when it’s been the coldest it has been in 20 years. The frost is at least six to eight feet deep.

“Even when it starts warming up, you could have 20 degrees for the next two weeks and there would still be frost in the ground.”

Nielsen said when she told her next door neighbours about her letter asking her to keep a tap on, and they told her they received the same letter, although they just got theirs this week.

Although nobody from the city was available to comment, the city’s website has information on these letters, which are part of its Frozen Pipes Prevention Program.

Under the frequently asked questions, it explains that all properties are assessed, and that under that assessment, homes very close to one another may come up with different results.

Under the Frozen Pipes Prevention Program, home owners are billed less for their water usage during the months they are asked to keep their taps on.