Record cold February for Island

Still-frozen waterpipes make citizens long for spring

MANITOULIN—If it seems like February was colder than usual, it isn’t your imagination. According to Environment Canada meteorologist Peter Kimball, average temperatures measured at the Gore Bay airport this past February were the coldest on record—that’s a record stretching back more than a century to 1881.

“Temperatures were an average of -16.4° Celcius, that is 9.3 degrees below the seasonal average,” noted Mr. Kimball, but he adds that this past February was not the coldest month on record. That honour falls to January 1994, where the average low temperature fell to a nippy -17.9° Celcius.

By now (early March) temperatures were expected to drop closer to normal, with the average running a mere 1.4 degrees below normal for this time of the year, noted Mr. Kimball.

Reports from communities across Manitoulin indicate that most have residents whose municipal water lines have frozen. Only Tehkummah (South Baymouth) and Assiginack indicate that no reports of frozen lines have come into the town office.

“No frozen mains or individual water lines that I’m aware of,” reported Assiginack CAO Alton Hobbs. “We have run a notice on our webpage all winter long about leaving a line running in the cold weather and we sent a letter to those land owners who have had problems in the past with more detailed suggestions.”

“Our municipal office and the community hall (Kagawong Park Centre) are frozen,” noted Billings administrative assistant Candy Tracy. “All community events are cancelled. Some homes are frozen, but no township mains that we know of, yet.”

Several lines have been reported frozen in Little Current and the municipality has reported that a water main leading into the new public works building is currently frozen and likely to remain so until spring.

“One municipal building had a frozen line (the Old School) on Tuesday and it was unfrozen on Thursday morning,” reported Central Manitoulin CAO Ruth Frawley.

“We had a section of a water main frozen which has been thawed by our Public Works Department (PWD) and we had a broken water main yesterday, which has been fixed by the PWD,” said Gore Bay CAO Annette Clarke. “We have had five other calls regarding frozen water lines which were on the residential side not the town side. These are being resolved by the property owners.”

First Nations have not been spared winter’s cold touch either, with M’Chigeeng, Aundeck Omni Kaning and Whitefish River First Nations all reporting a few frozen lines. Wikwemikong has been relatively lucky. “To my knowledge there has only been one house that experienced a frozen line for a period last week,” said Chief Duke Peltier. “Our tech services department was able to steam the line and allow the water to flow. This instance occurred due to the snow being plowed where the connection was thereby reducing the insulation that the snow cover provides. We advised the homeowner to reconsider snow removal in that area. We have also asked others concerned with freezing potential to run their water occasionally when the temperature drops.”

Running water continuously may be an added expense for the homeowner where there is metered supply, but when framed against the cost of unfreezing lines or the inconvenience of living without water, that additional cost is the better option.

Municipalities tend to follow the general rule that if a water line freezes at the town side of the cutoff, the municipality will cover the costs, if the water freezes on the customers side it is the homeowner’s responsibility, but in some cases, even if the water lines are on the municipal side, it is not possible to get the water running again.

The Northeast Town provides water from the recreation centre for those whose lines are frozen and residents whose lines are frozen may utilize the showers at the recreation centre, noted Northeast Town CAO Dave Williamson.

That was not as much of an option for Little Current Public School, whose lateral line from the water main was reported frozen on Monday, putting a significant strain on the school’s staff and resources as washrooms had to be shut down and alternate sources of potable water found for hand washing.

When it comes to letting your water run to prevent freezing, a dribble is not sufficient. According to public works officials, a pencil wide (not lead) of water at least must run in order to keep the lines free.

Among the recommendations for keeping your water lines free are: keep the indoor temperature warm; open the kitchen cabinet doors under the kitchen sink to allow more heated air near the pipes; seal air leaks in your home and garage, especially in areas where pipes and your indoor water meter are located; do not turn your furnace below 13° Celcius (55° F) at night or when the house is vacant. If you’re planning on being away, ask someone to check your home regularly and make sure you have enough drinking water to last 72 hours.

If you are certain that your lines are likely to freeze, it is advisable to fill your bathtub to ensure you have sanitary water available. In an emergency, snow can be melted in your tub for water to use for sanitary purposes. It is not advisable to use this water as potable (drinking or cooking).

Above all, if your pipes freeze do not attempt to thaw them with a torch. A number of Island plumbing companies have the equipment to thaw out waterlines safely and the job is best left to the professionals.

Assiginack and the Northeast Town have both passed motions to endorse the Local Authorities Service (LAS), a division of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), waterline warranty program. Under this program, water and sewer customers can pay an annual fee to ensure that their lines can be unfrozen and/or repaired, up to $5,000 per occurrence for a water line.