By Jessica Lovell
Nadia Slawinski is one of the lucky ones. After more than two weeks without running water, she was finally able to connect with a neighbour and the city to have a temporary water line connected on Friday.
Slawinski was one of about 40 Guelph residents whose water lines froze in February as a result of particularly nasty cold weather.
“That number has grown,” said Peter Busatto, the city’s general manager of water services.
There are now just over 70 customers in the city with frozen water lines that the city has been able to help either by thawing the lines or by running temporary lines from a neighbour’s outside tap, he said.“Another 10 locations don’t have running water currently,” Busatto said.
For the majority of those people, the city is working to connect temporary lines or to thaw the lines, he said.
But in a couple of cases, “there’s physically no location to connect them to for temporary lines,” he said.
Slawinski, a single mother of two, was probably without running water for longer than most customers. She had trouble connecting with neighbours to get permission for the city to connect a temporary water line. The lines are being set up through outside water taps at the expense of the city.
“We’ve been putting snow in our bath tub to melt to flush our toilets,” Slawin-ski said the day before the temporary line was set up.
She was showering at friends’ houses and trying to remain in high spirits, she said.
While luckily she now has running water, it was bad luck that saw the lines freeze in the first place.
According to information released by the city in February, some older water service lines were buried at a relatively shallow depth. They were freezing because they were not buried deep enough to protect them from frost in the ground.
Slawinski’s Dufferin Street house is well over 100 years old, she says. However, the water line was just two and a half years old.
“Anything that’s new was not supposed to freeze,” she said.
Slawinski’s line was installed in 2011 with oversight from the city through the city’s Get The Lead Out program. The program provides grants to homeowners to replace pipes with lead content.
The city’s current standard for the depth of water lines is 1.8 metres, said Rob Reynen, the city’s manager of inspection services.
Slawinski estimates her pipe is installed at a depth of about 34 inches, which is about 0.86 metres.
“They used the existing access into the house when they did the line,” Slawinski said. “They easily could have drilled down another 18 inches.”
The 1.8-metre standard is supposed to apply even in the case of older homes that are having water lines replaced, Reynen said.
“But occasionally, it’s not possible to get it that deep,” he said.
Those reasons include shallow basements, bedrock or other utilities, he said.
It’s not uncommon when replacing lines to older homes to tie into the existing access, as it can be expensive and tricky to create a new access.
It also means changing plumbing inside the house, he said.
If it is the case that new pipes are not going in at the 1.8-m depth, “the contractor is to install insulation on the pipe,” Reynen said, adding “in some cases, the insulation might not be sufficient.”
While the city hasn’t been able to do any excavating to investigate the frozen water lines, Busatto said the common denominator is probably shallow depth.
“Likely that’s the number 1 cause,” he said.
This is the first really cold winter since Slawinski has lived at her Dufferin Street home, and it’s the first time her pipes have frozen, she said.
She now knows her water line is not deep enough to prevent freezing, but she can’t afford the cost to redo the line. And she is not sure she should have to.
But “the city is saying they won’t redo my line because it was done correctly,” Slawinski said.
She disagrees, and her frozen water line is her evidence.
“Didn’t this happen because my new line was approved at a depth less than half of what the city requires for new lines?” she asked in an email to the Tribune.
Busatto wouldn’t speak about Slawinski’s particular case, but he said the installation of water lines is overseen by the city’s building services department.
“If customers feel that the city is responsible for an issue on their private property, there’s a claims process that is available to them,” Busatto said.
Given the current situation with multiple residents with frozen water lines, the city may look into expanding the Get The Lead Out grants program and include water line work for homes that have shallow water service, he said.
In the meantime, the city is picking up the costs of running temporary lines and is continuing to provide bottled water to those who cannot connect to temporary lines, he said.
“We realize how much of an inconvenience not having water is for our customers,” Busatto said.
By Jessica Lovell