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Risk of frozen water lines worsens

Area residents and businesses are learning they face an increased threat of frozen water pipes.

Lee Bundy, water/wastewater operator, told the Backus City Council that at least five Backus residents have frozen water lines. Bundy said the problem is complicated by the fact that the city’s water lines are primarily made of non-conductive material and cannot be thawed by running an electric current through them. Guidelines from the Department of Health warn against using sewer jetting equipment and antifreeze in water lines for health reasons.

Bundy said freezes are happening all over the city, but homes on the opposite side of the street from their water main and homes with water lines running next to their plowed driveways are especially susceptible because plowed areas have no snow for insulation.

To combat this problem, the council arranged to help those who have no water because of freezeups. Free water will be available at city hall during business hours. Anyone who has frozen water lines has been given the option to draw water from a neighboring home with permission from the other homeowner and the city. A “buddy connection,” as they are calling it, would have to follow certain guidelines or the connection between homes will also freeze, possibly leaving the neighboring home at risk.

Residents within the city might also have the option of going on “freeze run.” Those the city approves for freeze run will only be billed for minimum water usage during the time that freeze run has been called. This can only be done with city approval. Traditionally only certain homes in the city have qualified.

Bundy told the council the freeze run will likely have to continue into late April. He estimated there could be threats of frozen pipes until April 30.

“Fifty degrees doesn’t mean anything to a frozen pipe,” Bundy said.

Pequot Lakes High School faced freezing issues beginning Sunday, when transportation director Randy Maxfield went into the bus garage and discovered the water wasn’t working. Maxfield said the lack of water made it difficult for the drivers to perform bus maintenance, as they were unable to wash their hands. They solved that problem by getting a couple five-gallon buckets of hot water from the school kitchen.

Maxfield said the water issues were not scheduled to be addressed until Tuesday, but Fyle’s Excavating happened to be nearby thawing pipes and was able to make it to the bus garage as well. Water was back on by 3 p.m.

The former Community Education building, which is still used for a few classes, also has frozen pipes. Maxfield said the water shutoff is about 300 feet from the curb, and no local companies have a hose long enough to thaw the pipes. The building will remain closed until the warm weather gets the water running again.

Even well water systems are at risk of freezing this year, as Nisswa Elementary School found out the hard way.

“There is no such thing as a water main in Nisswa because there is no water tower. Every business and every household has their own well, which is almost unheard of today,” said Principal Erin Herman.

When the school’s head custodian arrived at the school before students Monday, he found that the water line had frozen. It was too late to cancel school so efforts were made to compensate for the lack of running water.

Water jugs and cups were brought in for all of the classes, disposable dishes were used for meals, hand sanitizers were placed throughout the building and coach buses were parked near the school for toilet use. Later, students were bused to the Nisswa Chamber/Public Restroom facility.

“Instead of a bathroom break needing to last about seven minutes, they were in and out and back in the classrooms in about 20 minutes. It was an interruption for sure, but we made do,” Herman said.

Herman said students reacted well to the mishap.

“We’re so impressed with the students and staff as far as their adjustments,” Herman said.

A temporary connection to the school’s well system was re-established at approximately 3:10 p.m. Monday. With this solution in place, the school has running water. The school parking lot has been partially blocked off to keep people from driving over the temporary water line. The parent pickup and dropoff area is smaller, but it is still in the same location. Buses will now be loading on Lakers Lane (formerly County Road 18).

Snow is a good insulator against frozen water lines, so businesses and homes using well water or city water are encouraged not to plow more than they absolutely need to. In areas where there is no snow, frost has been found as deep as seven feet. In snow-covered areas, frost runs much shallower.