Hot, dry weather has been wreaking havoc on Regina’s underground utilities this summer, with fires breaking out around the city due to wiring being torn from power meter boxes.
Also among the victims: water lines.
There were 28 water main breaks in Regina during the month of July. That is more than four times the five-year average (6.6) for the month, according to Pat Wilson, the city’s director of waterworks.
In contrast, there were no breaks in the month of June. Wilson said having a month without a break is strange, and may have been the result of residual moisture trapped in the soil.
However, as the summer heat continued to beat down on the Queen City, its now infamous clay-based soil began to dry out and shift. Some water mains, she said, just couldn’t take it.
“Some kinds of pipe are a little more forgiving,” she said. “But things like cast iron or cement pipe are pretty rigid and they don’t deal very well with that amount of soil movement.”
As water main piping ages, it becomes less resilient to the movement, she said.
“We have pipe in the ground that’s 100 years old,” she said. “It just gets to that point where that one more push is just too much, and then they snap.”
When a main breaks it costs an average of $14,000 to fix, she said.
On average, the city sees just under 170 main breaks per year, she said, noting that she wouldn’t be surprised if this year’s number is higher than that. Coming off a mild winter, 2017 began with lower-than-average break numbers.
On a yearly basis, winter weather also plays into the equation. The colder and dryer the winter, the more breaks, she said, noting that if the coming winter is cold, “that would not be great.”
Budget not yet a concern
The city plans for flux in main breaks year-to-year. Maintenance budgets come from a reserve funded by utility rates, and contain a margin for higher-than-average expenses.
“Right now we’re not anticipating we’ll be over-budget,” she said, but noted that budgets have been exceeded in the past.
The bottom line, though, is that when the budget is exceeded, it doesn’t have an immediate effect on the tax-base, she said, adding that one bad year isn’t likely enough to usher in an increase in utility rates to bolster the reserve.
The reserve is “in a healthy condition right now,” she said.