Toronto facing worst winter for watermain breaks ever

City patched up close to 800 busted mains in first 2 months of 2014

When it comes to watermain breaks, this winter has been the worst anyone at the city of Toronto can recall.

Already in 2014, the city has patched up 772 busted mains, compared with 1,500 in all of 2013. Crews have also dealt with close to 500 water leak calls.

Lou Di Gironimo, General Manager of Toronto Water employs some 35-year veterans who were around for the last comparable chain of watermain breaks in the bitterly cold winter of 1993-4.

"But they say this seems to be worse", Di Gironimo offered.

The lasting cold has frozen the ground deeper than usual, below the 4' mark where many of the city's water pipes are buried, thereby freezing up pipes along with the soil.

The process of getting water flowing again takes many steps--digging, thawing, repairing--all of it time-consuming. With as many as 40 calls for frozen lines or breaks coming in a day, city crews and contractors are having a hard time keeping up. Di Gironimo is asking for patience.

"We know we're well behind on being able to respond, but our crews are working as hard as they can and putting in very long hours trying to get water back to homeowners."

The watermain breaks are taking a big bite out of Toronto Water's budget. Di Gironimo says he's forking a lot in overtime pay and to contractors. He's also on the hunt for more thawing equipment, though North American suppliers are out with demand high in the midst of a punishing winter.

"It is going to have an impact on our budget, I can tell you that for sure", said Di Gironimo with a laugh. But he says the dollar hit will depend on how long the deep freeze drags on.

The city has dipped into reserve funds in the aftermath of December's ice storm. But Di Gironimo sees no need to worry. Toronto Water has 30-million rainy day dollars all to itself, "to deal with any significant fluctuations in budget."

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