Frozen water lines on rise

ESCANABA – Work crews continue to tackle the rising number of frozen water lines in Escanaba where abnormal cold temperatures are driving the frost line deeper, said the city’s water superintendent.

The city water department has received more than 300 water complaints this winter with more than 200 of them being frozen water lines, said Water/Wastewater Superintendent Jeff Lampi. The city issued its second warning regarding frozen water lines on Thursday.

“This is an abnormally cold year. It’s been 20 years since we’ve had this type of freeze,” he noted. “The frost has penetrated so deep, pipes are well above the frost line.”

Crews are working as fast as they can seven days a week to restore water service, said Lampi, estimating more than 20 customers are without water on any given day.

Electric personnel have joined forces with water employees to address the complaints on a first call, first serve basis as a rule of thumb, said Lampi, encouraging customers to report freeze ups as soon as possible.

“Crews are working long hours and through the weekends to keep people’s water flowing,” he said, adding the water should not be shut off after lines are thawed because they can freeze up again within minutes.

Crews thaw pipes by putting an electric current on the shut-off valve at the curbside, explained Lampi. The electric current heats up the adjoining pipe and thaws the frozen water. This process does not work on plastic pipes which a property owner may have chosen to install underground, he noted.

City water crews started getting worried about frozen water lines in December, said Lampi. As a preventive measure, the water department has been notifying home and business owners who have experienced frozen lines in the past based on department records.

“We’re trying to be proactive and call or go door to door,” he said. “If anyone has questions about frozen lines, they can call the water department before it happens.”

Lampi said anyone whose property has had a history of frozen water lines should watch for rusty water which is a sign of a freeze up. He advises these customers to let the water run to prevent the pipes from freezing, then notify the water department for further instructions.

A home which has experienced frozen water lines during the last three years was the first to freeze on Jan. 7, a day before crews were going to warn the homeowner of a potential freeze up, said Lampi.

Since then, calls about frozen water lines have been coming in steady to the water plant. More than 20 calls were received Wednesday morning, he said.

The most problematic spots have been at crossroads where the frost is deeper, Lampi noted. The Delta County Road Commission reported last week that frost lines are as deep as 90 inches (7.5 feet) in some locations. Most water lines are buried six feet underground, he said.

Lampi recommends concerned property owners should let their water run at a pencil-size flow rate until the road restrictions are lifted. An average “let run” will use about 400 gallons of water a day.

“Let runs” will be billed at the owner’s expense unless there is a recorded history of problems on the “city side” of the service. Customers with a recorded history of city freeze ups can call the water department at 786-3291 to adjust their water bill.

Lampi noted the city is responsible for work done on water lines on the “city side,” from the property line to the water main while property owners will be billed for work done on lines on the “customer side,” from the property line to the home or business.

In addition to the water lines which are freezing in Escanaba, crews have also responded to two water main breaks which may be attributed to the cold temperatures, said Lampi. One main was repaired on Wednesday.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, jlancour@dailypress.net