North Prairie general manager Teresa Sundsbak frets that the rural water district's customers either aren't hearing or aren't heeding a recent alert to trickle the water from their faucets.
As of Wednesday morning, the water district had received about 20 reports of outages due to frozen water in pipelines.
"They need to be trickling their water," Sundsbak said. Trickling water from a tap is the best method to keep water moving and prevent freeze-ups that can be difficult and costly to locate and fix. It also can prevent what could be a lengthy, inconvenient loss of water supply, she said.
Justin Andre, right, uses a torch heater to warm the ground as Rod Brotherton, left, removes soil to get to a frozen water line outside Sundre Sand & Gravel near Minot Wednesday.
The problem of frozen water in pipelines stems from cold temperatures, little snow cover and high soil moisture going into winter.
"It's been so extremely cold," Sundsbak said. "The frost is at 7 to 7-1/2 feet. It's the deepest it's ever been."
That frost has caused water temperatures to fall below 32 degrees in pipes located 8 feet below ground surface. Frozen service lines, which are smaller than water mains, can freeze more easily, but even main lines have frozen in some instances.
People should watch for low water pressure, which often is a sign that water is beginning to freeze.
Raymond Myers, who lives just west of Surrey, said he wasn't aware of the North Prairie alert nor did he have low water pressure to signal a warning before his water stopped Wednesday morning.
"It just quit," said Myers, who was fortunate to have bottled and jugged water on hand. "It's not convenient to be out of water at any time."
Neighbors Blaine and Sonda Burckhard also lost water but had it restored before the end of the day. Sonda Burckhard said they had not let water run from the tap before the incident because they didn't realize they could be affected. But they will be trickling their water now, she said.
When outages occur, North Prairie crews attempt to locate the area of frozen water so it can be thawed or the line replaced.
"It's a very, very slow process because the ground is so frozen. Contractors don't even want to dig because it tears up their machinery," Sundsbak said.
North Prairie has been experiencing a rash of frozen pipelines since Feb. 15. In addition to an area near Surrey, a group of customers near Balfour have been among those affected. Customers most are risk are those at the end of lines or with few neighbors to help keep water moving.
North Prairie is advising people to keep trickling their water for the next 30 days. That's because as warmer weather arrives, frost will settle deeper before it eventually dissipates.
Trickling water from a faucet into a septic system can cause the septic system to freeze. It is a balancing act, but people who are concerned should consider trickling water through an outdoor hose into a drain field, avoiding use of the septic system, Sundsbak said.
North Prairie's board likely will consider whether to waive the added costs to customers due to trickling water, but Sundsbak expects that customers may have to absorb the expense. She estimated the cost could be from $25 to $50 for a month, depending on the amount of water trickled. A 10,000-gallon usage equates to about a $60 bill.
The City of Minot has been dealing with frozen service lines for the past month, public works director Dan Jonasson said. Once the city thaws a line, it has been asking residents in that area to trickle their water.
Jonasson said some water lines in the city are more shallow or are older, uninsulated lines, that are more prone to freezing.
"It doesn't affect every resident," he said. "We haven't had any main lines freeze."
The city has a jetter to pulse water into a frozen line to thaw it and equipment that can be used to warm a line. The city replaced a line along Valley Street when it could not be thawed.
"This is some of the deepest frost that we have seen," Jonasson said. "I would guess it will be April before we start to see it clearing up."
North Prairie customers with questions about the trickling advisory or who have questions related to protecting their septic systems can contact North Prairie at 852-1886.