City takes three months to fix residential water break

Thompson homeowner kept public tally of water wasted and the cost to taxpayers

On Aug. 6, the City of Thompson finally fixed the water break located just outside Greg Szocs’ house on Baffin Crescent after it had been flowing for 88 days straight.

Although he’s glad this issue is finally resolved, Szocs told the Thompson Citizen that he’s still concerned about the lingering effects that three months’ worth of running water will have on his property.

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“I’m worried about soil saturation,” he said Aug. 1, five days before the water break was patched up. “It’s only 20 feet from my foundation, so if that soil’s saturated come winter and then all that water starts to freeze, I’m worried about damage to my property.” 

Throughout the last couple weeks, Szocs even made a point of letting the public know about his displeasure with the city’s slow response time.

He accomplished this feat by hanging a large white tarp a few feet away from the water break and, with the help of some paint and a marker, used it to keep track of how many days had transpired since the problem began and how much it would cost taxpayers.

By the time the city finally fixed this issue, Szocs calculated that 6,336 m3of water had been wasted and $23,253 went down the drain along with it.

“Basically, what I did was I took my garden hose and I ran it for an hour and used my water meter to calculate the usage and then doubled it, because my garden hose is a half inch hose. [The water break] is clearly more than half an inch,” he said. “I used the figure available on the city’s website, the public water utility rates, and that’s how I came up with the numbers.” 

Szocs’ public campaign quickly caught the attention of his neighbours, some of whom even posted images of the tarp on Facebook groups like Thompson Talk.

Even though Szocs doesn’t use social media, he eventually met up with some of these disaffected residents in person to share their frustrations with the city’s public works department, which he said has remained consistently bad with its customer service during the 30 years he’s lived in Thompson. 

“I’ve had other attempts to contact public works with regards to other issues, and they never respond. Never. Voicemails, I go there in person, they take my name and number. I never get a call.” 

While Szocs believes that public pressure did play a part in getting the city to fix this particular issue, he still has questions about why it took so long to for them to address it, since countless other water breaks popped up and were dealt with throughout those 88 days.

In an Aug. 2 email to the Thomson Citizen, a city representative explained that water breaks are not necessarily prioritized by the order they crop up, but according to the risk they pose to health, environment, volume and potential for further property damage.

“Some breaks take a day to repair, some take a few days,” said the representative. “New water breaks are always emerging, and with the limited resources available to us, our water and sewer crews prioritize repairs to minimize cost to the public.”

The representative went on to say that their crews repaired seven water breaks between July 23 and Aug. 1.

The email also claims that there is no way to accurately assess water loss due to a water break from visual inspection alone. 

“Line size, line depth, the size of the break, and variations in water pressure (which changes by the second due to usage) all influence the flow of water through a break,” said the representative. “Visual inspections can only provide a general estimate.”

Regardless of where his water break fell in the pecking order, Szocs said the city has to do a better job of communicating with residents and responding to these kinds of infrastructure issues in a timely manner.  

“In reality, we are their customers. We paid to live here and we pay for a service,” he said. “If they ran a retail outlet or some type of other business in this fashion they’d be out of business in days.” 

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