Water main breaks
Frequently asked questions (FAQ)
Water mains are underground pipes that carry water from the reservoirs and pumping stations to your street.
The water will usually find its way to the surface. Because the water main is under pressure, water will continue to flow until the break is controlled.
Water main breaks usually result from external corrosion of the pipe. Winnipeg soil is highly conductive and corrodes the metallic pipe from the outside in. Extreme weather changes can cause the ground to swell and contract, placing excessive pressure on the water mains, causing any weakened pipe to break.
Cold weather is one of the extreme weather conditions that can cause water main breaks. Water main breaks are more likely to occur when frost penetrates deep into the ground, to a level of five to six feet, usually from late January until early April. While cold temperatures may send the frost deeper, the level of snow cover is also important. Snow will act as a "blanket" insulating the ground. In years when there is plenty of snow, the frost does not go as deep.
However, just as many water main breaks can occur during other extreme weather conditions, such as a hot, dry summer when the ground is very dry, or a very wet summer. We experience just as many water main breaks in July and August as we do in January and February. In the winter months, though, the impact of water main breaks is higher, since the water has more difficulty draining because of frozen catch basins, and because street flooding and then freezing can affect traffic.
Winnipeg has 2,637 kilometres of water mains. About 610 kilometres or 23 percent of the mains are cast and ductile iron. The estimated service life of the cast and ductile iron mains, depending on the year of installation, is between 50 - 100 years or more.
In 2017, we had an all-time low of 236 water main breaks. At our worst point in the 1980s, we were averaging 2,100 water main breaks a year, or about 6 breaks a day. The worst year for water main breaks was 1983 with 2,549 breaks. We now have an average of about 1 or 2 breaks a day.
Up to four crews work 7 days a week, 11 hours per day repairing water main breaks, leaking or broken valves, and broken services. We also have 2 crews working in Emergency Services 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, so we can respond to water main breaks any time of the day or night.
Once we receive a notice from our 311 Centre about a water main break, we:
- Dispatch a crew to the location.
- Control the leak to reduce the risk to public safety, and private and public property. We do this by finding and closing valves.
- Contact other utilities to make sure that we can dig without damaging other services or endangering staff or the public.
- Pinpoint the location of the leak using an electronic leak detector.
- Dig down to the water main and confirm the cause of the leak.
- Repair the water main. Depending on the type of break, we may apply a repair clamp or replace a length of pipe.
- Open valves to turn the water main back on, flush the water main and sample water quality.
- Backfill to temporarily restore the excavated area.
- Permanently restore the sod or pavement in the excavated area.
If there are no complications, we can usually repair a water main within 24 hours. If the break is not creating problems, we may leave the water main on while repair crews attend to more critical breaks.
We prioritize the repairs based on the potential for damage or hardship. At the top of our list are:
- critical customers (e.g., hospitals, nursing homes),
- breaks which affect a large number of people (e.g., apartment blocks, institutions, schools), and
- major roads.
From 1998 up to and including 2014, we have spent $159.8 million on our water main renewal program to replace corroded water mains with new PVC pipe. To stop the corrosion of older cast iron water mains, we have cathodically protected some of our metallic pipe. Near these cast iron water mains, we have installed zinc bars called anodes, which corrode and redirect corrosion forces away from the water main.
Water main break on your street
There usually isn't time to notify residents. The water can flood streets and private property causing damage and safety hazards, and must be controlled as quickly as possible.
Water is sometimes discoloured after water main breaks, but this should not last long. Do not use discoloured water for any purposes that require clean water, such as preparing food and beverages, medical and dental procedures, or laundry.
- Turn on a cold water tap and let the water run for a few minutes. Do not choose a tap that has a water filter connected to it, or the sediment may clog your filter. Do not use a hot water tap because it could draw sediment into your hot water tank.
- Catch some water in a light-coloured cup or container to see if it is clear. You can use your water if it is clear.
- If the water doesn't clear in 5 minutes, wait 30 minutes and try again.
We provide a water tank with emergency drinking water for homes and apartments. You will need to bring a container to collect the water from the tank. You can use this water as you would use the water from your tap (e.g., drinking, cooking, flushing toilets). If the tank gets low, contact 311 and we will refill it.
As a temporary solution, we may be able to supply and install a temporary hose line:
- if a fire hydrant is available,
- if a hose line is available, and
- if the hose line does not unreasonably interfere with traffic.
The fee for this service is listed on the City of Winnipeg's online utility billing service, MyUtilityBill.
You can consider a permanent solution by installing a second service line:
- to a different water main (select figure 1 to see a larger version)
- to the same water main with a valve on the water main between the services.
(select figure 2 to see a larger version)
All food service establishments must be connected to the City's water supply in accordance with the applicable legislation. This requirement is to ensure that proper hand washing, utensil washing and toilet facilities are available at all times during the business operating hours. This means that if there is an interruption in the water service to your establishment, you must purchase a temporary hose line in order to remain open.
You can see the Food and Food Handling Establishments Regulation, emergency action plans and other helpful documents:
On occasion, a property can be flooded due to a water main break. We do everything we can to prevent this, but sometimes there are circumstances beyond our control that can result in property flooding, such as:
- homes that are very close to a major street with a large water main, or
- water that can't drain in winter because the catch basins are frozen.
We understand that this can be very disruptive and frustrating to property owners, and we regret the damage that can occur.
Consult your insurance provider to be sure you are protected by your property insurance policy. Insurance for damages caused by water main breaks is included in most residential and commercial property insurance policies.
Ensure your home is safe.
Yes, you can file a claim by contacting 311. However, under Section 485 of The City of Winnipeg Charter , the City is not liable for loss or damage as a result of a break or malfunction of a water main unless it is established that the break, malfunction or failure was the result of the negligence of the City or its employee. Similar legislation exists for almost all water utilities in North America.