THUNDER BAY — When Ted Bobrowski noticed water pooling in the back yard of his John Street home, he and his wife became curious.
Curiosity turned to concern as their sump pump began to operate continuously, so they contacted the city.
That's when their concern transitioned quickly to alarm.
The crew sent by the city to investigate said "our water line had sprung a leak, but the leak was under the house," Bobrowski recalled in an interview.
Water leaks in the service line on a homeowner's side of the property line are the responsibility of the owner.
Since his leak was discovered at the end of July, Bobrowski said, the situation went from bad to "horrible," and weeks later it continues to worsen.
Although a new water line was eventually installed, the contractor had to dig a 15-square-foot hole in the yard, leaving it looking "like a war zone," he said.
Even more concerning is the damage that's been done to the house.
Bobrowski fears its structural integrity has been compromised by the ground underneath being saturated.
He said his driveway is sinking, the back deck is down about six inches, and a corner of the building itself appears to be dropping.
"We've noticed cracks inside the house. It first started with one crack on one corner. And now I think there's six cracks in three corners of the doorway, and they're getting bigger every day," Bobrowski said.
He's also finding new cracks in the exterior wall almost every day.
"The actual foundation is cracking. I started counting the cracks, and it was only a handful of little cracks in the mortar originally. There's so many hundreds of them now, I couldn't count them all, and there's actual separation now that I see, not just cracks."
Bobrowski said the cracking is a recent development, insisting "it was not there before. We don't know how long the water ran under the house."
He believes water is still getting into the ground from some other nearby source. "I don't know where it's coming from. It's still happening on our property," he said.
A warning for other Thunder Bay homeowners
Bobrowski hopes his experience serves as a warning to other Thunder Bay homeowners.
"If they have a service line running under their house, it might not be covered under their insurance policy. So look into that. And they might be damaging their homes if they don't shut that water off immediately."
Bobrowski said after the city crew left his house, the connection to the city water main was left open.
"Nobody told us to shut it off," he said. "We ran a brand new sump pump to the street to direct the water away from the house. That night, the float on the pump got stuck somehow, so we ended up with a flooded basement."
A spokesperson for the city told Tbnewswatch that in a situation like this, the connection to the city water main will be left open only if a customer so requests.
It seems that almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Bobrowskis.
After the new service line was installed, several pinhole leaks developed in water pipes in the basement, and Bobrowski said they're still getting them.
"We're living in total disarray. We don't know what's going on exactly right now with our insurance, because we're concerned about the actual structure of the house. Our biggest fear is that the house has been compromised, and I have no idea what the costs are gonna be."
Bobrowski said the cost of replacing the service line alone may come to $10,000, but his insurance policy covers that part.
"If you're not covered it could be a huge hit for people. If it's happening under other homes, and they're not telling people to shut their water off, this could compromise other people's homes. And I'm sure nobody wants what we're going through to happen to them," he added.
The reason for the rupture is unknown
What caused the break in the water line is unclear.
Bobrowski said the work crew left the old copper pipe in the ground after installing the replacement.
He feels the city should do more to alert homeowners about the risk a similar disaster could happen to them.
Based on what he heard from two contractors who worked on his problem, he said, water line leaks are "happening all over. I think the city needs to step up."
Tbnewswatch was unable to obtain confirmation from either contractor about the types of calls they have been dealing with recently.
However, a number of local plumbing firms disclosed several months ago they were being deluged with calls to repair pinhole leaks in copper pipes inside homes.
After becoming aware of the problem, the city stopped adding sodium hydroxide to the water supply. It had been using the chemical to reduce lead levels in water coming out of the taps of homes with lead pipes.
Last week, Tbnewswatch asked Michelle Warywoda, director of the city's Environment Division, if the city is receiving increasing reports of leaks in service lines outside homes, and whether this kind of leak could be connected to sodium hydroxide.
Warywoda did not respond to those questions.
In an email, she did state that anyone suspecting a leaking pipe underground should call the city's 24 hour dispatch line.
"Homeowners should always watch out for anything out of the ordinary in their home or around their property," Warywoda advised.
"They may look for continuously wet locations in their yard, unusual cold or wet spots on their basement floor, the water meter continues to run when no faucets are open, abnormal sounds of running water or 'hissing' sounds and sump pumps running more than usual," she said.