Commentary

Frustrating City Response to Frozen Water Line

The City expects me to spend an extra $200 a month running my water because they did not bury my water line deep enough to prevent it freezing.

By Greg Smith
Published February 13, 2014

Last Tuesday my water stopped working. I contacted a plumber and he assessed that the issue was outside of my house. I then contacted the city, and on Thursday a contractor came to thaw the line. They ran a jet of hot water through the line, and by Friday they had the line open.

The plumber told me the freezing had occurred in the final 4" of my feed line, 4" from the main trunk. His opinion was that when I had paid the City to upgrade my line from lead to cooper, they hadn't buried the old line deep enough, leaving it buried in the ground attached to the new line by a Y-junction.

As a go-forward I was advised to run my water at a pencil width down the drain. The contractor achieved the desired flow, and upon his departure I measured the rate of flow. I timed how long it would take to fill a litre: 34 seconds. I multiplied this by a thousand to determine a cubic metre rate: 9.44 hours.

There are 730.48 hours in a month. I divided this by 9.44, bringing me to 77.4 cubic metres per month. The flow of water I have to maintain to avoid my line freezing amounts to an additional $200 per month.

Upon asking who was to pay for this, I was shocked to hear it would be my family! This is especially concerning, given the City's attempts to promote conservation of our utilities and the fact that the City has introduced a tiered water payment system, at the current rates of $1.29 and $1.32 for consumption and sewer service respectively.

I immediately contacted the City on Friday, February 7. I left a message expressing my concerns and relaying the information I discussed above. Someone from the City contacted me later that afternoon and was surprised at my findings.

I was told a City worker would arrive today at my house to disconnect my meter. I would then be charged based on my historical consumption.

Today, when the worker called, he told me he was no longer authorized to remove my meter. I called the City back and was told there had been a change in policy and they will not be disconnecting meters.

This is extremely upsetting! Why am I being penalized for an issue on the City's property, likely caused by faulty work?

I can turn the water off and have repeated visits from a contractor to thaw the line at the City's expense and my inconvenience, or keep it flowing and pay a huge penalty. Both solutions are unacceptable.

Greg Smith and his family moved to Hamilton in March of 2008 from Toronto. His wife was working at McMaster and they were attracted to the Locke Street area due to its "village like" feel and very affordable real estate. Coming from Toronto, a city of many villages, it had the same atmosphere that they strongly identify with. Unfortunately his wife has returned to working in Toronto. Greg works in central Hamilton and is considering opening a business himself in the city.

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By Greg Smith (anonymous) | Posted February 13, 2014 at 09:17:45

I already have an update. While the initial response was poor, after forwarding this letter onto the mayor and all city councillors, I got a speedy response from Jason Farr and Brian McHattie. They CC'd Dan McKinnon, Hamilton's Director of water. He promptly called me to discuss the situation. He understood my concerns, and added that it may be the entire main water line on my section of Charlton isn't buried deep enough to meet today's 1.5m code depth.
The direction to reimburse homeowners for water issues originating on city property is before council.
I was asked to give them a couple weeks to sort it out.
In the mean time, the water's still running.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 13, 2014 at 11:08:01 in reply to Comment 97588

The miracle of social media - I mean, the system is still "the squeaky wheel gets the grease", but it's so much easier to squeak these days.

Congrats on getting some satisfaction from the city.

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted February 14, 2014 at 11:04:12 in reply to Comment 97590

I think it's more of a reflection of contacting your local representative. Based on the article, City staff followed the existing policy like they're expected to. The elected representatives are the ones who have the power to change the policies when it's deemed that they're no longer working, which seems to be the case already. It's really a case study in how representative democracy is supposed to function.

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By Chatham (anonymous) | Posted February 13, 2014 at 14:18:45

I've lived on Chatham St. since 2009. I too always received those city notices to consider upgrading my line from lead to copper. A year or two back, I asked (my very very elderly neighbour) what she thought about it all. She assured me (almost with pride) that we had indeed had lead pipes. She said she's never considered upgrading, 'what for'?. I asked her 'but why not?,isn't lead toxic?' She stared at me silently for a moment,probably wondering to herself if I was crazy, then just turned around and went into her house without saying anything. She's lived in that house almost 70 years with lead pipes, and she's in her 90s.
I think I might indeed be crazy if I upgraded.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted February 13, 2014 at 17:55:08 in reply to Comment 97595

I have heard that if you flush out the water sitting in the pipes overnight (i.e. by taking a morning shower before you drink the water) you get rid of the highest levels of lead contaminated water. It's the stagnant water in the pipes that absorbs more lead than the flowing water.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted February 13, 2014 at 23:23:21 in reply to Comment 97603

That's what they say and lead effects the brain during the development stage. Like the 90 year old woman, it has been years since my brain developed...

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