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updated: 3/5/2014 7:11 PM

City pipes freeze, buildings get water via hoses in Elgin

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  • After her water supply pipe froze, the city of Elgin supplied Alice May with free water by extending a garden hose from her neighbor's house. Similar incidents have taken place at 44 businesses and homes from Jan. 6 through March 1.

       After her water supply pipe froze, the city of Elgin supplied Alice May with free water by extending a garden hose from her neighbor's house. Similar incidents have taken place at 44 businesses and homes from Jan. 6 through March 1.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Alice May said that the only disadvantage to getting water via a garden hose from her neighbor's house is having to continuously run tub water. Meanwhile, she gets free water.

       Alice May said that the only disadvantage to getting water via a garden hose from her neighbor's house is having to continuously run tub water. Meanwhile, she gets free water.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

This winter's deep freeze mostly has meant a lot of discomfort and plenty of complaining, but for some in Elgin it's been a much bigger deal.

Portions of some city water pipes under roadways have frozen, resulting in water service being interrupted at 44 businesses and homes from Jan. 6 to March 1, according to records provided by Elgin Water Director Kyla Jacobsen.

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The incidents are seemingly random and escalated after Jan. 31, she said.

"The snow acts as insulation, but we're doing such a good job of keeping roads clear, cars drive on (the cleaned roads) and it drives the frost deeper and deeper," eventually causing pipes to freeze, she said.

In most cases, that was remedied by connecting the affected buildings via garden hoses, outside spigot to outside spigot, to buildings next door or fire hydrants nearby, Jacobsen said.

People can use their water normally as long as they keep the water running from a sink or tub 24 hours a day, lest the hose freezes, too, Jacobsen said.

That system will remain in place until it warms up and the pipes thaw out. Meanwhile, customers are not getting billed for water usage, Jacobsen said.

The only other solution would be to dig up the pipes and replace them or thaw them out, but that would cost close to $20,000 each, Jacobsen said.

The problem, unprecedented in Elgin, has taken place this winter throughout the suburbs and the city of Chicago, she said.

Resident Alice May, whose water froze Feb. 14, said she's happy with Elgin's response.

"It works beautifully," she said. "I have hot water, I can do anything -- laundry, dishwasher, everything just as normal. Except I feel like I'm living under Niagara falls with the water running constantly."

Alfredo Meza, owner of Alfredo's Auto Repair on Villa Street, wasn't so lucky.

He's one of two customers whose services couldn't be restored because there is no outside spigot.

Meza said he's been hauling about 10 gallons of water from his house every day since Feb. 13 so he can use the bathroom at work. His business hasn't been affected otherwise, he said.

"It's stressful," he said. "We have to wait until it thaws out, and there's no telling when. We need some rain and some warm weather."

Sue Kasules said her home has been connected to her neighbor's spigot since Feb. 11, but the hose froze last week. When the water department said it might take up to three days to get a new hose, her husband bought one and reconnected the water himself, she said.

"The only good thing is, we got free water," Kasules said.

New water service interruptions take priority, Jacobsen explained.

Two incidents in Elgin affected vacant homes, and two were caused by a contractor who installed pipes less than 5½ feet deep as required by the city, Jacobsen said.

Starting next winter, the water department will notify homeowners when the frost begins to get deep, Jacobsen said.

As for when the pipes will thaw out, that's up to Mother Nature, Jacobsen said.

"I'm not even going to venture a guess as to when this nightmare will be over."

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