City of Winnipeg won’t pay if God floods your basement

Winnipeg has a recurring water pipe popping problem. Water main breaks are a constant problem there but, it turns out, if the water from their pipes happens to spill into your property, it’ll be your problem, not theirs. That’s what Andy Chan discovered.

The water started to flow in Tuesday. Chan got on the phone to the city. They sent a crew over and shut off the water. Chan hired a company to drain his basement and thought things were more or less under control.

Then the city turned the water back on.

“It started pouring back in again,” Chan said Thursday. “It was coming in through the basement window. I know the city’s going to tell me they’ll clean it up, but that this was an act of God. It wasn’t! It was because the water main broke. It flooded my building and then they flooded it again.”

The first time it was water. The second time? It was a mudslide.

Water-main breaks are a fact of life in Winnipeg. There were 328 last year and 432 the year before. That’s down considerably from the 1990s. Most of the breaks were minor.

A city spokeswoman said that in 2010 there were 24 claims against the city for basement flooding caused by water-main breaks. There were 65 in 2009.

None of the claimants received compensation.

What really pisses Chan off is the timing. Apparently God didn’t want him to sell his business at a decent price. The post-flood money offer for the property is nowhere near what he’d hoped to get for the building and the buyer may cancel the deal now anyway. It looks like his future plans drowned in the flood.

On Thursday, Sam Katz faced the cameras and said he’d consider changing city legislation to aid owners of properties damaged by overland flooding from water-main breaks. Exceptional circumstances would have to be present.

He offered his compassion to people who end up with a basement full of muck after a water-main break.

Andy Chan doesn’t want compassion. He’d like an apology and an explanation. He’d like a cheque. He thinks it’s pretty exceptional that his future could be altered by an aged water main.

You can’t convince him this was an act of God. You can’t convince most taxpayers.

I can see why locals would be getting tired of this. The article states that the older pipes from the 1920s were better made than the ones that went in later so that either means the city took the cheap route by buying shoddy equipment in the first place, or they actually were the best at the time and there was simply no way to predict how long they’d last.

Bad business all around, I guess.

Saskatoon doesn’t have a major pipe problem like this but I found an article from last April regarding some neighbourhoods with lead pipes and how much it was going to cost homeowners to switch over to something that won’t poison people.

The city indicates that it will not demand the money from affected homeowners up front. It will also provide people the option of having the replacement charges attached to their 2011 property tax bill.

City spokesman Mike Gutek said officials are simply trying to protect people’s health.

“It’s nobody’s fault. We are in this together. Unfortunately we have lead pipes,” Gutek said. “The disruption is causing the risk of elevated lead levels, therefore we are mandating that the whole connection be replaced for the safety and health of everyone,” Gutek said.

While the policy shift will immediately affect 90 homeowners on 8th Street, the city said it could be years before all water pipes in the city are free of lead.

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