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City water customers asked to beware of frozen water lines

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After a resident in Pequot Lakes was forced to hire an excavating crew to jackhammer through more than seven feet of frost to reach his frozen water line, the cities of Backus, Pine River and Pequot Lakes have called a freeze run.

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Mike Hansen, Pine River public works executive director, said the city has received more than 25 calls about frozen water lines in two weeks.

Lee Bundy, Pine River Area Sanitary District facilities manager, is in charge of the water systems in Pequot Lakes and Backus. Bundy said he has received three calls about frozen water lines from Backus and 10 from Pequot Lakes.

“The last time we had this many freezeups was in 2003. It was quite bad as well,” Hansen said.

Frozen lines in these cities can be costly. Just thawing underground water lines alone can cost more than $5,000 if excavation is required. If a pipe freezes and bursts inside a home, the costs can be well over $1,000 depending on the damage done.

Metal pipes can be thawed by a qualified welder running a current through them, and plastic pipes can be thawed by professionals with hot water or steam, though both processes are expensive.

Many have a policy allowing homeowners to keep a small, pencil thin stream of water running in their homes at all times to keep water lines from freezing. This is called a freeze run. In Backus, homes on the freeze run list can be given minimum billing on water and sewer while on a freeze run. The city of Pine River allows a resident 15,000 gallons of water during a freeze run, and while the city of Pequot Lakes does not have an official policy, the city is still willing to work with its residents to keep water lines and mains open.

In order to go on a freeze run in any city, a resident must first contact the city and the city must have declared a freeze run.

“You can’t just go on the freeze run without calling it in and letting us know,” Bundy said.

“If you feel like you have been susceptible (to freezing) in the past, it is a good idea to do it (go on freeze run). The little bit of money it will cost you to do a freeze run is cheaper than having a welder come out,” Hansen said.

The cost incurred by frozen water lines is generally the responsibility of a homeowner. Most cities are responsible only for costs incurred from the water main to the curb stop. For this reason Hansen said freeze runs are worth the cost of using additional water.

Some people are more prone to having frozen water lines. Those with kitchen sinks connected to outside walls should keep the cupboards under their sinks open so pipes are exposed to heat from the house. Those who live on dead end water mains are also more prone to freezing.

“That’s another place that water mains can freeze. Places with limited use, dead end lines. They are out there by themselves and not looped into the system,” Bundy said.

Towns try to loop water mains so that water flow in one area will cause water to flow in other areas, but dead end water mains tend to have limited water flow. This is especially troublesome if residents on a dead end water main are seasonal or do not use much water.

In Backus, Wood Street and Point Road are both on dead end water mains. In Pequot Lakes Trailside Park, the north end of Front Street and South Oak are roads with dead end water lines.

Dead end water mains and frozen water lines can also be a big problem for the city. Frozen water lines can freeze backwards and cause water mains belonging to the city to freeze over. In this way, a city can benefit from helping residents prevent frozen water lines.

“The city of Backus uses a freeze run mostly for itself, not so much for the homeowners, but it’s a dual process that we are both doing for each other. In Backus we have some shallow lines that tend to freeze so the city has learned in the past to have people run their water,” Bundy said.

If you do a freeze run, water must be kept moving to prevent frozen lines. This water must run constantly.

“A lot of people when they start a freeze run they start it in the kitchen sink. That’s fine, but people don’t like to listen to the sound of running water and they can get shut off,” Hansen said.

Bundy and Hansen recommended installing a refrigerator ice machine kit on your water line. This small diameter copper tube installs on your water line easily and can be routed directly down a drain. Flow is easy to control, the sound of running water should not be audible, and it is unlikely to be turned off by accident.

Because frost is running so deep, Bundy also reminds residents that snow can help to insulate buried water systems from frost. Water lines buried next to plowed driveways are prone to freezing. If you plow out sections of your yard during the winter, any lines buried in your yard are also more susceptible to frost.

“I never encourage a homeowner to plow out a whole yard especially over their water line,” Bundy said.

Bundy also stressed that freeze run should not come to an end just because it becomes sunny outside.

“March is definitely a sneaky month because people think it is safe. It’s not,” Bundy said.

Freeze runs should continue into late April or early May. If you are unsure, call your city hall.

The cities of Nisswa and Crosslake do not have water systems, though they do have sewer systems. Crosslake has not had any freezing problems with their sewer system this year. Nisswa has had only a few frozen sewer problems. Sewers are generally safe from freezing, though if a homeowner has a leaky faucet or other supply of trickling water, those can cause sewer freeze ups.

Travis Grimler can be reached at travis.grimler@pineandlakes.com. Follow him on Facebook.

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