Moose Jaw's old, cold infrastructure is breaking down

Justin Crann
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Moose Jaw on pace to eclipse main breaks year-over-year

Moose Jaw's infrastructure is showing its age, according to Duane Grado, the city's public works director.

Most of the 80 kilometres of cast iron water mains among the lines carrying water to the city's population was installed between 1920 and 1960 and is either past or approaching its life expectancy.

That infrastructure "is going to fail, and the frequency it will fail at is higher now," Grado told the Times-Herald Friday.

"You have to look at the magnitude. The frequency (of breaks) is not a coincidence," he said.

And the intense, sub-zero temperatures aren't doing the aging water lines any favours.

"The cold weather is one of the hardest things we've been dealing with. It's obvious, and it isn't just for Moose Jaw. In Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Swift Current — they're all setting records. We are, too, with water main breaks," Grado said.

In 2013, he noted, Moose Jaw saw 38 breaks for the entire year. In 2014, it has already seen 22.

In Grado's terms, that equates to "a good 30 per cent higher than any normal year."

In addition to water mains, the city is also experiencing trouble with its service lines — the lines that carry water from the mains to individual households.

"It's an outstanding year for those, too," said Grado.

Moose Jaw has seen 23 service lines burst and in addition "we have what I've never seen before," said Grado: 53 frozen service lines, 15 of which were still being fixed.

"If Mother Nature were kind, she would say, 'That's okay, you're not going to have any more breaks until next November now,' but we will," he added. "You get breaks in the summer, too."

And the cold yields other issues.

Among them are unprecedented depths for frost levels, Grado said.

"The frost level is usually somewhere between a metre to a metre-and-a-half, and on busier streets it can go as deep as two metres," he explained. "What we're finding now is the frost level is down to two-and-a-half metres deep, and that's right on top of our water mains.

"In the past few weeks, we've had some situations where we've dug down and the frost level is a few inches from the pipes," added Grado. "So it's the type of situation where you have two parts of an equation that aren't good when you put them together: cold weather, and weak infrastructure."

And then there's the third factor — the extra time taken and wear-and-tear on equipment that is associated with fixing the breaks in deep frost conditions.

"It's difficult to break the frost … (and) it's very hard on our equipment. Last weekend, when it was very cold, we couldn't even take our equipment out … because all of the hydraulic lines froze as soon as we got out there," said Grado.

"That equipment, as solid as it sounds, has vulnerable lines. The hydraulic lines are out in the open, in the air."

As grim as the situation seems now, Grado did make a case for optimism.

"Council has recognized the problem with cast iron lines, and that $2.2 million (invested in the capital budget) will replace a substantial amount," he said. "That, every year moving forward, multiplies by four times the amount of work we used to do.

"These water mains have to be addressed, and the only way to address them is to get more funds," added Grado. 

"We're hopeful that we'll get more money, and we'll have to tender some of this out because we can't do it all with our crews … (but) it won't happen overnight."

You can follow Justin Crann on Twitter or like him on Facebook. Graphs created using Infogram.

Organizations: Times-Herald, Prince Albert

Geographic location: Moose Jaw, Regina, Saskatoon Swift Current

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Recent comments

  • Justine
    March 11, 2014 - 11:47

    To add to the article. Many of the houses whose service lines are affected have been told to go without water until spring. Until mother nature fixes the problem for the city. These households are being given at max two 5 gallon pails of potable water as well and a jug of drinking water. No water is being made available to these houses for laundry or showering. Some people have been told to go to a hotel. The city will not deliver water on weekends. If your water freezes over the weekend you will be charged $120 for the city workers to come out and tell you to wait until spring. They will also tell you how much of an inconvenience it is for them to come out and provide you with this service and how much time they are missing with their families. So much more to this story than what is written here. Serious mishandling of the situation on the citys part. They do not realize the impact this has on the residents; health and cost! I have not had water for over a week. When I called the city yesterday to express concerns over the handling of the situation they took notes and told me they have not had a lot of time to respond to the crisis! The city's response is again beyond pathetic!