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Posted on: March 13, 2019

Missoula Water cautions residents to watch for frozen water lines

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Missoula Water officials announced today that unusual weather conditions have caused some local water service lines to freeze, and they recommend residents consider running a faucet in their home at a slow drip for the next few weeks to keep lines open. 

The service line, which is the responsibility of the property owner, connects a property to the water main.  Residents who are experiencing problems with their service line should consult a licensed plumber or contractor.

In winter, water in the soil freezes, creating a “frost line” that goes deeper and deeper underground.  Weeks of cold temperatures have pushed the frost line deep enough to potentially freeze water service lines, which are buried 5 to 6 feet deep.  According National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Kitsmiller, the average temperature in the Missoula area from February 1 to March 12 of this year was 16.8°, the coldest average for that period since 1893.

Snow insulates the soil, and in a typical weather year, the frost line can stay relatively shallow. When the snow melts and overnight temperatures remain low, the frost line is driven deeper.  Even as the air begins to warm in the spring, the soil’s frost line is still moving down.

“It is a bit counter-intuitive that water lines can freeze when it’s warming up outside, but every year we receive a few reports of frozen service lines,” says Deputy Public Works Director Dennis Bowman.  “It’s impossible to predict which service lines will freeze under these unusual weather conditions, and that’s why we’re recommending that residents leave one faucet running at a very slow rate to keep the lines open. Depending on temperatures and weather conditions, it might be necessary to keep these precautions in place for the next few weeks.”  Missoula Water will provide updates as weather conditions change. Frost will remain in the ground as long as temperatures dip below freezing at night.

Frozen water service lines have been an issue in both Helena and Great Falls, Bowman said.  “The City of Great Falls’ Public Works department issued a press release about this on Monday, and the Helena media has reported it’s a significant issue for residents there.  Missoula residents can save themselves a lot of aggravation and unnecessary expense by taking this small precaution now,” he added. Bowman says the average cost to run a faucet at a rate of  ¼ gallon per minute for two weeks is about $12 to $14. He estimates the cost to have a contractor dig out and repair a frozen service line to be $5,000 to $10,000.

Missoula Water is owned and operated by the City of Missoula and is committed to providing clean, safe water to the community, maintaining the water system infrastructure, and ensuring the future sustainability of the resource. For more information, call Missoula Water at 552-6700.

Learn more about the underground frost levels: http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/weather/resources/askjack/2003-03-28-archive-frozen-ground_x.htm

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