2/27/2014 2:45:00 PM 24 frozen water services in CF sparks council discussion
by Ken Haggerty
One of the worst winters ever in Minnesota has resulted in at least two dozen frozen water services in Cannon Falls, Cannon Falls public works director Tom Bergeson reported to the city council on February 18.
Bergeson said in his 25 years in public works, he had previously only seen four frozen services. He likened this year to a "200-year flood." The day of the meeting, workers were called in after a full day of plowing to deal with a busted main in front of the hospital.
A citizen with a frozen line asked if the city could assist in some way with people dealing with frozen water lines. Property owners are responsible for the line from the main to the home. People are being charged by private vendors $500 and up to have welding equipment hooked up to their pipes to get them thawed, he said. Then, they are instructed to let the water run until the water is coming out of the tap at 36 degrees or more, which he said can result in a big water and sewer bill. He asked if there is a compromise the city can make to help people hit with some of these expenses.
Mayor Robby Robinson said the public works committee would be discussing this at their March 4 meeting and bringing any recommendations to the city council on March 6.
Interim city administrator Lanell Endres said the city is still trying to get a feel on how much water is being run to avoid freezing, at how many locations and for how long. She said it is tough to make any good recommendations without knowing the full cost of the situation. She said she would recommend users be allowed to pay usual monthly bills and late penalties should be waived until the city decides what it wants to do about allowing credits.
Bergeson said the city needs to develop a protocol for getting some bonded and insured requirements on people thawing out these lines with welders. He said if done improperly, electrical appliances in the home can be damaged or even fires could be started.
Council member LeRoy McCusker, a plumber who has worked in Cannon Falls for many years, said he fears the water situation could be reaching a critical point and wondered if the city should be taking preemptive measures to have some people run water at the ends of some of the lines to help prevent freeze-ups. McCusker acknowledged this could create problems in billing if the city then had to go back and give credits on water and sewer bills to all the different accounts, but fears if something isn't done, more water main breaks and/or leaking feeder lines could be seen in the future, creating some expensive repairs for the city.
McCusker said he has never seen lines freeze because the water is just so cold. He said usually it's the cold air in the frost line that works its way to freeze lines "outside-in." He thinks this year, lines are freezing from the "inside-out."
McCusker said he also believes that some of the freezing problems are starting from the city's water mains, not from the home service lines. He said he has seen water out of his own tap at 34 degrees.
McCusker said he helped one client get a service thawed and told her to run her water at a little less than a gallon per minute to keep it from refreezing. It froze up three days later. He said he then told her to run her water line at about two gallons per minute. McCusker said he thought the city had a policy that would give credit to a property owner for any amount over regular usage. He said if that's not the case, and people decide they can't afford to run water, water lines may freeze from the homes back to the mains. He also said public health also becomes an issue and that plumbers and the city have a duty to address that as well.
McCusker said the frost usually goes down before it goes out and fears the problem could get worse before it gets better.