No end in sight for frozen water lines

The issues with frozen water lines aren’t going to thaw away anytime soon.

The number of businesses and residents reporting frozen water lines to Austin Utilities has hit 113, according General Manager Mark Nibaur, who added that’s just the ones they know about. Typically, Utilities officials hear of six to 12 in a winter. Nibaur has spoken with multiple Utilities employees with 30-plus years in Austin that haven’t ever seen that many.

“They don’t recall a winter like this,” Nibaur said.

The main cause has been a deep frost, which Nibaur said have reached 4 to even 6 feet deep.

“That’s a number we just don’t see very often,” he said.

The frost is typically 2 to 3.5 feet. The deepest frosts have been on roads where the snow cover doesn’t insulate against the conditions, according to Tom Stangeland, a hydro meteorological technician with the National Weather Service. The frost isn’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future, as Stangeland said the ground frost won’t start thawing until the snow melts first.

Austin Utilities does not fix frozen water pipes.

A few weeks ago, Harty Mechanical started working on frozen pipes and has handled about 20 since, according to Matt Anderson, an estimator with Harty.

Austin Utilities has recommended people track the temperature of their water and run a pencil-sized stream if it drops below 40 degrees. Nibaur urged people to run the water continuously on one faucet until the water temperature goes above 40 degrees or until conditions warmup permanently.

“A little trickle of water will be whole lot less of a headache than a frozen line,” he said.

Anderson agreed, stating that an uptick in a water bill will cost much less than repairs for a frozen water line, which he said are costing on average at least $500 at several area contractors. Like Stangeland, Anderson doesn’t foresee the issue going away until spring.

“We’re going to need a major warmup or a steady one,” he said.

While some area cities are offering credits or discounts for water bills, Austin Utilities hasn’t announced anything yet. Nibaur said Utilities officials are discussing it.

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