City of Iqaluit racks up big bills while thawing frozen residential pipes

Residents urged to report water problems immediately

Iqaluit’s director of engineering and public works, Matthew Hamp, gave an update on water issues in the city at a meeting of the engineering and public works committee of the whole on Wednesday, March 13. In less than three weeks, the city received notifications of 29 different frozen pipes around the Happy Valley and Lower Iqaluit area. (Photo by Courtney Edgar)

By Courtney Edgar

The City of Iqaluit has spent more than $330,000 over the past two and a half weeks on thawing frozen residential water pipes.

Much of that expense could have been avoided if residents had promptly called the city when they experienced water problems, say city officials.

“I can’t stress this enough: as soon as people recognize an issue call the city, first thing,” said Matthew Hamp, Iqaluit’s director of engineering and public works, at an engineering and public works committee of the whole meeting on Wednesday night.

Waiting for several days before notifying the city can mean the difference between a repair bill of $800 or $30,000.

As well, posting on social media about your water not working at home is not going to get a city worker to come to your home and fix it.

Educational materials in the works

After nearly three weeks of “localized freeze-ups” in Happy Valley and Lower Iqaluit, Hamp said the city needs to get communications out to the public with step-by-step guides on what to do when the water stops working.

Last week, prompted by those freeze-ups, acting chief administrative officer Amy Elgersma posted on social media a public service announcement about how important it is to turn on heat traces to prevent freezing to service lines.

She also reminded residents to turn off water circulation pumps when the water is shut off, but to make sure the pump is turned back on when the water is reinstated.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Coun. Kyle Sheppard said breaking down the little details is going to be necessary.

“People don’t know what a heat trace is, they don’t know what a circ pump is,” Sheppard said.

Over 30 homes had frozen pipes in last few weeks

Between Feb. 24 and March 13, the City of Iqaluit was notified of 29 locations where service lines were frozen. These are now solved, Hamp said.

Of those, 22 lines were thawed by contractors hired by the city.

Six lines were excavated and thawed, while one service line was excavated and replaced entirely.

These numbers do not include the numerous Iqaluit Housing Authority properties that also had frozen service lines during that time period.

The city doesn’t handle that work for IHA properties.

A lot of those 29 people waited days to notify the city—in some cases five to 10 days after realizing they were without water.

“People literally went day in and day out with no water, and then would finally get frustrated and call the city,” Hamp said.

“The only way we can know is if people call us…. In most cases it is simple—you call a plumber and they thaw the line. But if it sits for three, four, five, 10 days, it freezes right back to the main and we’re into a situation where we have to dig up the main, at a significant cost.”

Hamp estimates that all this water infrastructure work in the last two and a half weeks had a contracted cost of $313,000 for the city.

As for internal costs to the city, just the staff overtime pay alone came to $22,000.

“These sorts of things tend to snowball,” Hamp said.

City over budget by $213,000 last month for pipe repairs

Over the last year, the city has spent a lot of money to fix various water infrastructure issues after problems arose and escalated.

While going over budget in the last month by $213,000 on the Happy Valley and Lower Iqaluit freeze-ups, the city was able to draw on a capital account for one of the service-line replacements for $50,000.

In mid-February the city said it had committed at least $150,000 to solve water pressure issues due to compromised pipes at the Astro Hill complex.

As well, acquiring a reverse osmosis machine that still needs repairs to function cost the city over $800,000 last fall.

On Wednesday, Hamp confirmed that the supplementary pumping from the Apex River to Lake Geraldine to replenish the water supply cost somewhere between $1.5 million and $2 million.

And that pumping is likely to be needed again this summer, Hamp said, though water use is somewhat lower this year than it was last year, so far.

Less water lost to leaky pipes

Between Jan. 1 this year and Feb. 25, total water withdrawn from Lake Geraldine was 162,700 cubic metres, according to a table prepared by Hamp.

Last year in that time period, 196,700 cubic metres of water were withdrawn.

Last fall, Hamp said the city is trying to determine how much water was wasted to leaking pipes before an investigation led to their repairs. At first the city thought it was 40 per cent of total withdrawn water, but then said it might be somewhat lower since the city tracked water after treatment—which uses water—when it should have tracked it before.

When Coun. Joanasie Akumalik, who chaired the engineering and public works committee of the whole, asked on Wednesday what would have caused the lower amount of water withdrawn this year, Hamp said the major pipe repairs last fall are the main reason.

“We’ve addressed a lot of leakage we’ve had in the distribution piping,” Hamp said.

“We put in a lot of money and effort into fixing leaks all over town…. We had that big investigation to see where our losses were and we addressed a lot of those, so it essentially means more of the water we’re pulling out of the lake is getting to an end user, whereas in the past a lot of that might have been lost along the way through leaks into the ground.”

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(9) Comments:

  1. Posted by thirsty pete on

    $330,000 over the past two and a half weeks. Love love love my trucked water. People say it’s too expensive, but it’s fairly consistent. With utilidor, it feels like we’re constantly fighting with something that we will never be able to maintain properly.

    • Posted by Trucked service better than utilidor on

      I totally agree with you, Thirsty Pete. Our home is on trucked service but the business is on utilidor and the utilidor system has been nothing but a major headache. We have had nothing but problems! If the water isn’t kept moving things freeze up quickly, both water and sewage. Our home has never had problems even if we’re away for a few days. Love my trucked service!!!

      • Posted by Mother Trucker on

        Got to agree with Thirsty Pete and Trucked Service Better Than Utilidor On. Ain’t no party like a trucked water party!

  2. Posted by Mr. Joe waters on

    Utilidor systems where a must have status symbol from days gone by.

  3. Posted by anonymous on

    I can’t believe the city is trying to blame their slow response on residents. Many people called repeatedly and were without water for days before the city helped them. It’s understandable that is was hard to keep up with the demand but to blame it on people who were stuck without water is pretty low.

  4. Posted by Mr.Ben on

    The significant cost is digging BUT why the contractor digg up by guessing. The pipe and leakage can be identify by special equipment and a city water infrastructure plan. The digging contractor does not have any of these. It take them several days to figure it out where the pipe is.
    Does the city have a water service pipes plan and equipment to locate an underground pipe and leakage?

  5. Posted by tone deaf on

    Wow, this city is tone deaf.

    The backlash on social media is well deserved. The citys comm system is a mess. Maybe online criticism will push them to be adequate.

  6. Posted by drought on

    I’m pretty sure it must be protocol for the city to blame homeowners. My neighbors had their water overpumped. Destroyed the place. Fill light worked and everything. The city was blaming the homeowner without anyone from the city stepping foot on the property to assess the situation, or even a phone call. Blame, blame, blame. Has the city ever said “Our bad. We’re sorry.”? I can’t think of one time.

  7. Posted by Colin on

    When I built a house in Yellowknife I installed an electric heater cable along the water line from the City mains. It had a switch so I could turn it on just when needed. No problem for me when the coldest I once saw was minus 53!

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