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Frigid February freezes fickle water pipes
Matthew Pearson, Ottawa Citizen February 27, 2015
February’s deep freeze has been brutal on underground water pipes across Ottawa, leaving many residents without running water and forcing repair crews to work around the clock.
The city has seen a huge increase this year in calls for service, with more than 250 reports of frozen pipes since Feb. 7. Compare that to 2014, when there was a total of 134 instances of frozen water services in the entire 12 months.
“This is as bad as I’ve seen it in recent years,” said Dixon Weir, the general manager of environmental services.
As of Friday morning, there were 64 properties without running water due to frozen water service pipes, Weir said. Of those 64 affected properties — a mix of residences and businesses — 26 had been without water for more than 72 hours.
The longest a property has been without water exceeds six days, he said.
All available resources have been assigned to the problem and crews are working “around the clock,” Weir said. The city has already restored service to nearly 190 properties.
For residents with frozen pipes, the current wait time for a thawing crew to arrive is four to six days. Some properties may require multiple visits, Weir said, adding that it’s unclear how long it will take for all the issues to be addressed.
“Mother Nature needs to help us out with warmer weather,” he said.
Where are the affected residences and businesses located?
They are distributed across the city in old neighbourhoods and new, Weir said, adding there’s no estimate on the total number of residents affected.
What should you do if your pipes freeze?
Call 311. The city will provide bottled water and is letting residents use the shower facilities at any city-owned recreation centre for free. Residents could also melt snow in the bathtub for non-drinking water uses, such as flushing toilets. The city is also asking people to help crews by clearing away snow from the shut-off valves outside and inside their homes.
What should you do to prevent pipes from freezing or freezing again?
There are about 2,000 properties in Ottawa with a history of frozen pipes. The city sends letters to them each year.
To prevent pipes from freezing, turn on one cold water tap and run it continuously, 24 hours a day, until April 15, or later, if directed to do so by the city. The stream should be about the size of a pinky finger. Residents should also ensure indoor air temperature is kept above 6 C, particularly near the water meter.
These steps are also crucial for residents whose pipes have already frozen this winter, but have since been thawed, Weir said. “These services are still at risk and it’s important that you take that precautionary step.”
How do crews thaw frozen pipes?
There are two methods. Steamer units pump steam into the service pipe from within the affected household, while DBH units run an electric current through the service pipe in order to heat it.
The city has reached out to other municipalities and the private sector to get more thawing equipment to increase service response, Weir said.
How much is this cost the city and taxpayers?
The city has not sorted out the budget implications yet, Weir said. The focus now is on restoring service.
First 2015 flood forecast a mixed bag: Red River Valley very dry, Assiniboine at moderate to major risk of overflow
Bruce Owen, Winnipeg Free Press February 28, 2015
First, the good news: It's looking like a sandbag-free spring.
In short, at this point, the flood risk in the Red River Valley is minor to nil, but in the Assiniboine River, it's moderate to major because of above-normal soil-moisture content at freeze-up and normal to above-normal snowpack-water content, according to the province's first flood outlook of the year.
Factors that could lead to spring flooding
Fixing frozen pipes should never be DIY project
Mike Holmes, Saturday Homes, Leader-Post March 2, 2015
One of the worst things that can happen to your home during winter is a burst pipe. Repairing or replacing the pipe is one thing, but the real — and more costly — threat is the potential for water damage.
What causes a pipe to burst? Pressure, and usually that pressure is caused by the expansion of water when it freezes. (A clog can also cause a pipe to burst but freezing is the usual culprit.)
It’s important to prevent frozen pipes by wrapping them (including hot water lines) and draining exterior plumbing lines. Also, turn-ing off the exterior hose bib is not the same as shutting off the line; it must be shut off from the inside.
But what if a pipe is already frozen? In some cases it’s unavoidable (for instance, during extreme weather conditions and power outages.) How would you know and what do you do?
The first sign of frozen pipes is no water ﬂow from one faucet or ﬁxture (like a shower head), but others in the house work ﬁne.
If one pipe freezes other pipes nearby can freeze too, since they are in the same area of the house. So you should let a little bit of water drip from adjacent fixtures to keep water ﬂowing before it freezes, and flush toilets every so often. You can do this when it’s extremely cold and/or there’s no power.
When people think of a pipe bursting they usually imagine water pouring down the walls, through the ceiling or onto the ﬂoor. But if a pipe bursts because water froze in it, the homeowner might not know it until the frozen section thaws. Then one day they come home and their house is ﬂooded.
If you suspect a burst pipe, shut off the main water valve as a precaution. It’s usually in the mechanical room in the basement, but every home is different. Next, call a licensed plumber.
By code, all plumbing should be on the warm side of the insulation and vapour barrier. If not it should be rerun — a big, expensive job. A temporary solution is a heat tracer or heat-tracing system. But you will still eventually need to rerun the pipe, or it will freeze again once there’s intense cold.
Sometimes plumbers use a heat tracer or heat-tracing system to get rid of ice blockages in pipes. It has two clamps that are attached to either end of the pipe and then an electrical current thaws the ice. There are also plug-in versions you can get at big-box stores to wrap around pipes vulnerable to freezing. They typically have a thermostat, so when temperatures drop they kick in.
Fixing frozen pipes is never a DIY job. You must call in a licensed, experienced plumber. They will know which pipes are affected and where they are with-out turning your walls into Swiss cheese.
If you don’t have a licensed plumber you can trust in your list of contacts, one way to know if you’re dealing with a professional is by calling. Most reputable plumbing businesses have a dispatcher. They will tell you if there are any plumbers in your area and the wait time.
If you call and you get someone’s voice mail, or the plumber picks up the phone him or herself, chances are they’ve picked up 20 other calls that day and you will be waiting a very long time before anyone shows up. You’re better off finding someone else.
Watch Mike Holmes on Holmes Makes It Right on HGTV. For more information visit makeitright.ca.
Frozen pipes blocking water supply to dozens of Ottawa buildings
Peter Mazereeuw, Ottawa Citizen February 26, 2015
More than 40 buildings in Ottawa are without running water due to ice-blocked water pipes, the city says.
City of Ottawa staff are working “24 hours per day” to restore water service to the buildings, some of which have been without running water for longer than 72 hours, according to a memo from the city’s environmental services manager to city council.
There has been a “significant” increase in the number of calls to the city about suspected frozen water pipes over the past two weeks, according to the memo sent to the mayor and council yesterday by Dixon Weir, general manager of environmental services.
Temperatures in Ottawa haven’t risen above -3.5 C during February, with the average high at around -11 C without windchill, according to Environment Canada data.
Frozen pipes take from three to five days to thaw, the memo said.
City staff is providing bottled water and access to recreation centre shower facilities to residents with frozen pipes, the memo said.
Every year, the city advises residents of buildings where pipes have frozen in the past to run their water continuously during the coldest months to avoid freezing.
Conservationist calls on province to manage eastern slopes for water
Colette Derworiz, Calgary Herald February 25, 2015
Leah Hennel / Calgary Herald
Alberta needs to stop managing the Eastern Slopes of the Rockies for timber and start managing the landscape for water, says a well-known local conservationist, biologist and author, noting it would also improve the habitat for grizzly bears.
Kevin Van Tighem, who retired as superintendent of Banff National Park in 2011, will speak Friday night at Wild Soiree: Bears & Water, hosted by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society in Calgary.
“In so many cases, you are going to have policy priorities that are in conflict with each other so it creates problems but, in the headwaters, all of our strategic priorities are aligned,” said Van Tighem in an interview this week. “They are not aligned in how we are managing them.
“The things that we can do to give ourselves a more secure water supply, reduce flood risk, restore grizzly bears and create high-quality recreation for all of the people of Calgary and Alberta — all of those things can all be done in concert with each other by taking better care of those landscapes.”
His speech, which will be based on a book he’s releasing this fall, fits with some of the concerns being championed by the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society.
“Kevin’s done some wonderful writing in the past few years,” said Anne-Marie Syslak, executive director of the southern Alberta chapter. “He’s really put light to some of the major conservation issues that we’re facing in southern Alberta.
“A lot of Albertans don’t realize how important and how at risk our waters are and some of the concerns that are facing our future, and Kevin’s talk will bring to light the importance of watershed health in the southern Eastern Slopes.”
Last September, the province released a land-use plan for southern Alberta to guide decisions on development, recreation and conservation in the area. Officials touted it as a balanced plan, but it was immediately criticized by environmental groups for missing the mark on headwaters protection and conservation of land.
Van Tighem said his concern is that the province is managing the eastern slopes — the source of southern Alberta’s water supply — for timber logging rather than for water.
“So we’ve got no effective management of recreational vandalism, which is rife,” he said. “The advice of fisheries biologists and wildlife biologists gets ignored when its in conflict with logging interests.
“Every solution, every problem involves cutting more trees.”
He said he would like to see the province return to conservation-based management in the area, which was the case between 1947 and 1974.
“The solution is really to get the old-boy foresters club out of the business of managing our headwaters and create a headwaters conservation authority,” said Van Tighem. “If we manage that landscape optimally for water, then by default we get a better landscape for bears, we get a better landscape for wildlife, we get better fish, we get hiking.
“All of those things flow from focusing on the health of those headwater landscapes.”
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