When John and Mary Lowrie of North Mankato arose on Feb. 4, water came out of their shower nozzles and their faucets on command.
By the time they came home from work, their underground pipes were frozen solid.
They eventually got their water back after four expensive days of plumbers and a failed attempt to thaw their pipes with electricity.
On Feb. 18, they asked the North Mankato City Council for a little break — not on their plumbing costs but on their water costs. To avoid another freeze-up, they are running a basement sink at all hours, draining about 250 gallons a day.
North Mankato has drafted an ordinance to help the more than a dozen homes and businesses that have dealt with the problem so far this winter. Today the City Council will decide whether to set a March 17 public hearing to consider the water usage credit.
They’re not alone — some cities are saying this is the worst winter for water pipes in memory.
“I’ve worked here since the early '80s and I’ve never run into this,” said Patti Woodruff, city administrator in Mapleton. The city has had five freeze-ups in recent weeks.
In those cases, the city is paying for repairs because the freeze-ups have been on the city-owned portion of the pipes. So far, they haven’t had to go to the expense of digging down to the pipes. Several area companies offer so-called “jetting” services, whereby a hose is snaked through the pipes and hot water is shot through the nozzle.
Mark Wenisch works at Affordable Jetting, the company that thawed the Lowries’ pipes. He said business is brisk, and all types of underground pipes are freezing, including septic lines.
“The frost is down so deep it’s caused a lot of things to freeze that have never frozen before,” he said.