3/6/2014 4:22:00 PM Frozen pipes for some homes leads TF Council to call special meeting
by PAUL RIGNELL
No one in Taylors Falls or anywhere near the town needs to be told that the area is experiencing a winter unlike any other in a generation, and City Council action was needed Wednesday morning, Feb. 26, on a specific weather-related problem. Eight households have called city staff to report a loss of water, due to frozen pipes. The issue has known no boundaries. Mayor Mike Buchite is one of the residents to have reported frozen pipes, out of the city’s estimated 350 water utility customers.
Buchite stepped away from the mayor’s chair and joined staff and other residents in the audience before his council colleagues reviewed the matter. In leading the discussion, council member and Vice Mayor Ross Rivard noted there were two frozen-pipe calls on record from the last winter that was this harsh more than 25 years ago. Six of the eight incidents this season had been corrected before the council meeting, with many of the affected households arranging for a fix by hiring welders to carefully apply heat near the pipes that were causing problems. City Engineer Steve Heth explained that the pipes are freezing in the city’s right-of-way, between the water main and individual curb stops, because ground frost will reach deeper levels in “plow zones” where the city’s trucks remove snow, he said.
He advised that those households should be helped with costs for the work that they ordered to restore their water service. Buchite did not have the welding option because he lives in an area where plastic pipes were prevalent when the connections were installed, he said. His faucets still were not running as of Feb. 26, and he has carried water home from other sources for emergency use. On the bright side, temperatures are finally projected to rise through March, and so this council discussion will really affect next winter and subsequent years. One likely plan for the future is to direct households that suffered frozen pipes this year to run a steady, narrow stream from one home faucet when temperatures drop and stay below freezing again. With a stream at a quarter-inch or pencil’s width, a household would add 10,800 to 11,500 gallons of water to its usage per month, based on staff estimates.
The city would have to determine how those utility accounts could be credited in those cases, and also monitor how the action would affect discharge schedules for the city’s wastewater ponds. For now, as long as the current winter lingers, the city’s utility customers can expect to receive thermometers with their next bimonthly billing statements. The instruments will come with instructions on testing water temperatures from faucets. If incoming water is 40 degrees or lower, there’s an imminent freeze-up forming.