04/21/2014 05:28 EDT | Updated 06/21/2014 05:59 EDT

Winnipeg's frozen pipes woes drag on into spring

The snow is finally melting in Winnipeg, but the city is still coping with the aftermath of the coldest winter in over a century, with more than 1,200 homes and businesses without water due to frozen pipes.

At least 2,486 properties across the Manitoba capital have had frozen water pipes since November, with service restored to 1,242 of those homes and businesses to date, according to numbers from the City of Winnipeg.

That leaves 1,244 properties currently on a city wait list for pipe-thawing crews. Many residents have had to wait weeks for a crew to visit their home.

"I am extremely frustrated at this point," said J.T. Austin, whose home has been without running water since March 7.

"Shower's not working, my bathtub doesn't work, my sink doesn't work and, of course, my toilet doesn't work as well. If I want to brush my teeth, I'm using a water bottle in doing that. Hot-water shaves are out of the question."

The citywide problem started with frigid temperatures this winter, which Environment Canada has declared as Winnipeg's coldest winter since 1898, driving frost further underground than usual.

- FULL COVERAGE | Winnipeg's water crisis

- INFOGRAPHIC | How frozen pipes are being thawed

Randy Hull, the City of Winnipeg's emergency preparedness coordinator, said crews are working around the clock to thaw people's pipes.

"If you do the math, we're thinking that Mother Nature's going to help us by the end of June. But we're thinking that we ourselves could help out everybody by the end of June," he said.

"So it's going to be a race between Mother Nature and the city to see who's going to get to the finish line first."

Many using temporary hose lines

Many of the properties on the city's wait list have temporary water lines connected to neighbouring properties with running water, but 446 properties have no water supply.

Austin said he and his girlfriend called the city to report their frozen pipes problem six weeks ago, and at the time they received large water jugs that can be refilled at any fire station.

City crews confirmed to Austin that only one of their neighbours has running water, but crews cannot connect a temporary water line to his house.

"Their outside tap, their pipe has burst, so if we wanted to run water I'm looking at flooding my neighbour's basement so I can have water. So that's a no-go as well," he said.

Austin said he's now been placed on the city's excavation list, meaning crews will have to dig up the street in front of the house to access the frozen pipes underground.

In the meantime, Austin said he has been showering at the gym. Washing dishes, doing laundry and cooking meals have posed more of a challenge.

"Dishes are a bit of a complication. I just simply put them out in a cold room in a box and we take them over once or twice a week to … my family's place and we do them there," he said.

"Cooking is interesting. Any type of raw meat or anything like that always raises a problem. We just hope we don't end up with food poisoning."

'It's driving me nuts'

The city has opened three resource centres for citizens dealing with frozen pipes, as well as made showers available free of charge at local swimming pools.

However, only one of the resource centres — the one at the Cindy Klassen Recreation Complex on Sargent Avenue — is open on Easter Monday.

Austin said in emergencies, he has resorted to using the toilet at a nearby hospital.

"It's driving me nuts," he said. "My girlfriend is in university. This is, you know, her crunch time. She's got exams, she has to study. She's beyond stressed."

Businesses are also affected by the frozen pipes problem, with at least one having to shut down and others — from hair salons to restaurants — struggling financially without running water.

An additional 7,320 properties have been identified as being at heightened risk of developing frozen pipes, meaning owners have been ordered by the city to keep a tap running at a trickle until it's safe to stop.

Mayor Sam Katz acknowledged it's been a tough winter.

"This to me is similar [to] when we had our first big flood. We got caught off-guard on certain scenarios. As you can see, from those floods thereafter, they were handled very well," he said.

"This is also, as well as being very traumatic for many people, it's been a phenomenal learning experience. God willing, it should never happen again, but as you know, it could. Yes, we will be much better prepared, in my humble opinion."

As for Austin, he's saving his receipts and hoping the city will compensate him for some of his out-of-pocket expenses related to his frozen pipes.