BELDING — For several residents in the Belding community, a single frozen pipe, stopping the flow of running water to their home, has turned their world completely upside down.
Without water to drink, bathe, or to even flush toilets, it has made living conditions in an abnormally cold and snowy winter complicated and rustic.
But the question of who is responsible for fixing these frozen pipes, to return the flow of water to several Belding homes, is one that has been clouded for several residents.
Areas such as York Street, where three neighboring homes are now without water, have residents frustrated and purchasing bottled water or melting snow. Two homes on Little Street have seen residents now looking to friends to find a place to shower each day.
But a lack of information, and the rapid spread of incorrect information, has fingers pointing back and forth between residents and the city.
PROBLEM ON YORK STREET
On Feb. 6, a local television station visited Belding and reported that “city water pipes” had frozen, preventing water from reaching several homes along York Street.
Residents such as Stacey Lewis complained in the report, stating that, as a taxpayer, the city should be doing something about the frozen city water lines.
However, the report was inaccurate, according to Belding City Manager Meg Mullendore, who said the water pipes in question do not belong to the city.
“It is not the city’s fault,” Mullendore said. “These are service lines, or laterals, that run from the main line to inside the home.”
Mullendore said those lines are the responsibility of the homeowner and there’s not much the city can do to help.
Once residents made the city aware of their situation, Department of Public Works (DPW) Director Ernie Thomas visited the area and found that the main city water line that feeds water to all residents on York Street was running without issue.
“When the pipes that freeze are on private property, that is the property owner’s responsibility,” Mullendore said. “Additionally, the city’s insurance carrier prohibits us from thawing out service lines.”
Mullendore said the distinction between which water pipes are frozen for residents can be confusing, and she encourages residents to contact the city if they are having a problem.
However, once the distinction is made between whether a main city water line is the problem or if it is a private service line running from the main to the residence that is the problem, the responsibility of who must fix the issue changes.
“If the city created the problem, yes, we would try to figure out how to fix this,” she said. “However, this is not our main line, which supplies the water to everybody on that street.”
PROBLEM ON LITTLE STREET
On Little Street, however, the situation is different.
Resident Melanie Fish and her family have been without running water for several days, and have been driving to a family member’s home to bathe and fill water jugs.
“This has made life difficult for us,” Fish said. “We have to haul water and take showers elsewhere, which means getting up extra early. We have had to change what we buy for food because cooking is not easy so we are buying frozen meals you can cook in the microwave. We have to flush toilets with a bucket.”
Fish said she and her husband both work full time, which has made the extra trips for the family an extra burden.
“It is costing us more money for gas running around to get water and do laundry and buy different supplies for meals,” she said. “It is costing us time as well and is tiring us out.”
The problem on Little Street, as it turns out, is the responsibility of the city, unlike the problem on York Street.
“They don’t have a main that runs down their street,” Mullendore said. “They actually have a line that runs up Little Street to service them, but it is a small, shallow line that has now frozen. We are aware that the problem exists and that it has affected two houses.”
The problem, Mullendore says, is that the effort to correct the problem is not an easy one, especially during winter months that have seen nearly 80 inches of snow dump on the Belding area.
Mullendore said the city will have to tear up the entire street and plant a new line for residents that will be deeper in the ground to prevent freezing in the future. However, she said that effort will take a full week of working around the clock for the entire DPW staff, pulling them from all other work throughout the city.
“With Little Street, we literally have to tear that whole thing up and drop the line deeper,” she said. “That would be a week-long, 24/7 project for us to do. Everything else would have go by the wayside during that time in the city.”
Mullendore said addressing the problem for the two homes is a matter of prioritization for the city.
“To fix it, you would be shutting down the entire street,” she said. “Every house that is on that street would be affected and without water for at least a week.”
Mullendore, who visited both York and Little streets with Thomas on Tuesday, said she is currently working to find a resolution that works.
“We know we have to fix it, it’s just a matter of when,” she said. “Ernie has it on his agenda to get it done. But with all of the other situations in town, the question we look at is, this time of year, do we inconvenience every person who lives on that street by addressing it now? Right now, we are trying to ascertain the when and how with this situation.”Mullendore said until she can determine when it’s appropriate to fix the problem, residents affected on Little Street will be inconvenienced.
“The neighbor across from the Fish residence have attached a hose from a neighbor’s home and is running that garden hose to their own home, which is now providing running water,” she said.
Mullendore said the Fish family will likely have to seek a similar option for now. Mullendore added the city will reimburse neighbors who aid others by providing water via a hose.
TIPS FOR FREEZING PIPES
Service Manager Stephen Hole of Parker-Arntz Plumbing & Heating in Greenville has had to deal with numerous customers this year who have seen their pipes freeze.
According to Hole, the majority of homes that see their pipes freeze are those without basements, or those that have crawl spaces, where the pipes are exposed to the open air just a few
feet from the surface.
“It’s very unusual for a water service to freeze up,” Hole said. “Most pipes are at least 4 feet down and are insulated by the earth.”
But in situations such as on York and Little streets in Belding, where lines are only 2 feet from the surface, Hole said it isn’t surprising that pipes have frozen.
“Their line freezes, they call the city, but in the end it’s going to be on them,” he said. “Nine out of 10 times, it’s the responsibility of the homeowner.”
Hole said his company will use electric thawing devices that will send a current along pipes to warm them.
But in situations such as on York Streets, the freezing has spread beyond what plumbers can handle, meaning residents may be without running water until a contractor can reach the pipes stretching from the home to the city main line.
Hole said the first step for residents is to call their city officials.
“We hate to flood the city with calls, but you need to verify that the city main lines are flowing,” he said. “Once we establish that, then we start looking at the house. We try to determine, when, where did you last have water? Where does it enter the house at?”
But when you know it’s going to be bitter cold, what can be done to prevent freezing pipes?
Hole said there are several simple methods that can help to prevent freezing.
“Flowing water doesn’t freeze,” he said. “People that leave their water at a trickle, or flush their toilets an extra four to five times throughout the day, they will be less likely to see their pipes freeze,” he said. “Water has got to get down to 32 degrees and set for a few hours.”
Most importantly, Hole said not to change daily habits just because one warm day might arise between several days of freezing temperatures.
“Don’t change your habits any,” he said. “Just remember, that cold air is still around, especially under ground. Keep that water moving.”