ESCANABA - Despite warm sunshine and melting snow suggesting that the spring thaw has officially arrived, underground water lines are still in danger of freezing, according to water officials.
To combat the frozen lines, cities across the Upper Peninsula have issued "let-run" orders to residents who are at risk of water line freezes. The orders require that residents allow a pencil-thick stream of water to run continually in their homes, and residents are billed for an average month's water usage.
However, as warmer temperatures hit the region, many residents believe that the danger is over and that they can turn off their water - a belief that could lead to pipes refreezing or broken lines.
"For the most part we're just waiting for the frost to thaw so we can tell people to turn their water off," said Tim Coppock, relief operator at the Escanaba Water Plant.
The extreme temperatures this winter, which plunged as low as -40 degrees in some parts of the U.P., have created a deep layer of frost in the soil. While temperatures in Escanaba area were warmer - dropping into the -25 degree range on some of the coldest mornings - the continual cold has created a layer of frost that can vary in depth and poses risks to underground water lines.
"We don't have anything definite yet. We haven't been doing a lot of digging," said Coppock of the depth of the frost, adding that reports of frost depth varied between zero and four feet below ground.
Water lines in areas closer to the lake faired better due to warmer, liquid lake water in the soil resting against waterlines and keeping them thawed, but many residents were out of luck as the cold persisted. Roughly 505 homes had frozen waterlines in Escanaba this winter that required thawing by city.
"At the present time we have everyone thawed out," said Coppock.
Thawing frozen lines is only half the battle. The extreme temperatures and line freezes caused about four service lines to break in Escanaba and an equal number of water mains.
"We think we have some more broke that just haven't come to the surface yet," said Coppock.
In Gladstone the freeze ups have caused similar problems.
"We had two water lines break. One is temporarily fixed and one is permanently fixed," said Gladstone City Manager Darla Falcon.
Gladstone Water Department personnel thawed out 174 frozen lines this winter and 94 residents were issued let run orders.
"If you're on a let run, continue to let run. We're not out of the woods yet," said Falcon.
Anyone who experiences a water or sewer line freeze up is asked to call the Gladstone Water Department at 428-3460 between the hours of 7 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to be put on the list of homes and businesses that need their lines thawed.