ELKHART — The bitterly cold weather that has blasted Elkhart this winter has taken its toll on plenty of homeowners' water pipes, causing them to burst and generating unwanted indoor waterfalls.
That's probably not breaking or surprising news.
But it came in sharp relief Tuesday, March 18, at the Elkhart Board of Public Works meeting. The body approved seven requests for credit from property owners on their sewer bills, stemming from leaking and burst pipes inside homes and other buildings. At the board's March 4 meeting, the body approved eight requests.
"It's just a bad year," said Deana Ward, the finance manager at the Elkhart Public Works and Utilities Department and the official who processes such claims.
She said her office has received a total of 22 requests so far this year through Tuesday for sewer bill credits stemming from pipe breaks brought on by the cold. That's up from just six the same time last year.
The city offers sewer credits when pipes break and water spills inside a home rather than draining into the sewer network. If the water doesn't get into the sewer system, it isn't processed at the city's sewer treatment plant, thus the city doesn't incur any expense handling it.
"If it doesn't go down the sewer, there's no reason they should pay for it," Ward said.
Frequently, it's city officials who identify a pipe break when water use at a particular address suddenly spikes, she added, and they'll contact property owners in such circumstances.
Customers are still on the hook for the lost water, but the sewer bill savings when a credit is granted can be significant, depending on how much water flows before a break is fixed. In the cases approved Tuesday, the credits ranged from $77.12 to $484.21.
Guidance Ministries — north of downtown Elkhart — was hit earlier this year by freezing pipes and the board approved the agency's request Tuesday for $318.39 worth of sewer bill credits.
"It's been a rough winter!" Lori King, pastor at Guidance Ministries, wrote in a letter to city officials. In all, five pipes have burst so far this winter, she later said, the first time it has happened in the entity's 14 years at its 216 N. Second St. location.
In one case, a pipe break left water bursting all over donated boxes of clothing meant to be distributed to Guidance Ministries clients. Employees frantically wrapped duct tape and secured clamps around the break before a plumber came to repair it.
"The guys were holding it," Ward remembered. "They were getting soaked. You do what you got to do."
Another issue here brought on by the cold has been frozen laterals, the outside underground pipes carrying water from a mainline to individual homes. In some cases, homeowners have lost water access, at least temporarily, and had to connect hoses to neighboring homes for water.