Mike Donio and his family have been without water services for nearly a week.
And there’s no end in sight for the Sprague Street father-of-two.
Donio said he called the city’s environmental division last Thursday the minute he noticed his pipes had frozen and was told it would be up to a week before crews got to his house. Six days later Donio has been told he could be without water for up to one more week.
He’s not happy.
“You don’t realize how much you take for granted having your water just accessible to you. Without the water, for the young children to go to the bathroom I have to drive to a convenience store, Tim Hortons or McDonald’s just for them to use the facilities,” Donio said.
“It’s so tough not having any water at all, especially for laundry, dishes, cooking.”
Donio and his wife Andra are not alone.
City officials say they’ve responded to 638 calls so far this winter, about 20 times the usual number. Crews just can’t keep up with the demand.
Add to that 57 water main breaks – well beyond the average annual total, with the season just starting to heat up and dozens more expected – and it’s overwhelming said Tony Santos, supervisor of the city’s drinking water licensing program.
Water mains breaks, which affect entire neighbourhoods, take priority, he added.
“They have the most risk to our distribution system,” Santos said. “Our operators are diligent and want to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“The city is in an unprecedented situation with the amount of frozen water services that we’re experiencing this year.”
Workers have successfully resolved about 400 of the frozen pipe cases, but it will take time to clear the backlog, with cases coming in faster than crews can melt the ice. It takes between half an hour and four hours for one home, Santos said.
Workers are on the clock 16 hours a day, but there’s only so much they can do. The training and equipment used to thaw pipes are specialized, meaning supervisors can’t simply shift employees from one department to another.
City officials have also reached out to neighbouring communities in search of additional machines to help thaw pipes in a timelier manner, but have been shut down, told the problem is region-wide.
It’s not getting any better, as the frost begins to rise and cause damage as it works its way to the surface.
“Unfortunately the wait times are increasing. They’re coming in faster than we can actually get to do the repairs on them,” said Santos, noting the frost has penetrated to a depth of seven feet, far deeper than usual.
Santos has no idea how long it will be until the city catches up. But there are remedies that have been put in place to help affected residents cope.
“We are offering free water cards so people can actually get water from our water-fill stations, as well as shower facilities at our city pools, for free.”
The explanations are of little comfort to the Donios, who are considering a temporary move across town to a relative’s place if the water is out of service much longer.
“It’s frustrating,” Donio said.