Turning on the tap is no longer a guarantee of water, at least for a growing number of homes and businesses across the state.
As frost levels have reached in excess of 7 feet in places, water pipes are freezing. A more typical winter frost depth is about 5 feet.
Brainerd Public Utilities said 124 residences and businesses have dealt with frozen water pipes, with five more added Wednesday.
No water mains have been affected. The heavy snowpack is insulating yards but the pipes running beneath city streets haven’t been as lucky. In Brainerd, those affected have been scattered throughout the city.
It’s a widespread issue.
“We’ve been hearing it’s pretty crazy,” Sjolund said.
Jeff Hulsether, Brainerd city engineer, said there has been a sole instance of a frozen sewer line, something that hasn’t happened in at least five years. The city is monitoring a handful of spots that may be more likely to have trouble.
“We are seeing the frost go down deeper than we usually do,” Hulsether said. “It’s just one of the effects of having a colder than normal winter.”
In Staples, city workers put notices on doors primarily along the Northeast Sixth and Northeast Seventh streets warning residents of the danger in their neighborhood. They’ve been advised to get a thermometer and put it in the running tap water to monitor the temperature. If it’s below 35 degrees, they’ve been advised to run the water continuously with a stream the size of a pencil. Some may have to do that until April or later. Water from the tap is typically about 45 degrees. If it gets to 40 degrees, it may be on a downward spiral.
Nate Mathews, Staples city administrator, has heard of hundreds of frozen water pipes in St. Cloud and Mankato, about 30 in Little Falls and service line issues in Wadena.
“Most cities have issues,” Mathews said. “We’ve got about 20 service lines that are frozen right now.”
In Staples, reports of a few frozen lines popped up in early February but most were called in late last week. They noticed a pattern with houses on the west side of the street affected as the water lines are on the east side of the street and the water has to travel under the road to reach the homes. Mathews said the last time Staples had this many frozen service lines was during the winter of 1982.
Staples is helping connect affected home and business owners with plumbers who may be able to use steam or heat up copper lines to thaw the pipes. Otherwise, the winter remedy may be hooking to a neighbor’s water supply. During warm months, a city remedy has included a temporary water main above ground. But this year above ground options, with the subzero cold expected to continue, are obviously tricky. Some people may look at going without running water for extended periods. Mathews said they’ve had instances where steam attempts to thaw the pipes have proven unsuccessful.
In Staples, the city is following a pattern others have adopted by not charging affected residents for the additional water use if they have to keep the water running. Mathews said some cities told residents they should continue that practice until they can swat mosquitoes.
In the cities not giving a pass on the extra water usage, Mathews said it’s still a lot cheaper to pay a $1 to $3 a day more than dig up the ground and go without running water for three months.
Mathews said the city’s concern will grow if there are a lot of homes or businesses in a particular area affected, thus dropping the total water flow in the area. It means a water main could be in danger of freezing.
For Staples residents affected by frozen pipes, the community center is offering a place to shower and fill up with water.
“This cold has caught up with us, “ Mathews said. “I hope it’s the end of it, but what we’ve been hearing it could be worse. ... It’s not going away anytime soon, unfortunately.”