REGIONAL—While milder weather is in the forecast for the next several days, last week’s cold snap sent the frost line plummeting, and that could soon be putting water lines and septic systems at …
REGIONAL—While milder weather is in the forecast for the next several days, last week’s cold snap sent the frost line plummeting, and that could soon be putting water lines and septic systems at risk.
As of Wednesday, MnDOT’s frost gauge near Orr reported frost at a depth of 62 inches. That’s well ahead of the average for this time of year, and is only eight inches short of frost levels last year at this time, when problems with water lines were already becoming widespread.
Last year, of course, it was city residents and businesses that bore the brunt of the problem, since city water lines and mains lie under plowed streets and sidewalks. Plentiful snow cover last year helped prevent such problems in rural areas, where septic systems, wells, and water lines are normally protected as long as there’s adequate snow.
But with as little as six inches of the white stuff on the ground in some parts of the region, the risk to rural residents is rising. “It’s just starting,” said Dan Rogers, who operates Northern Minnesota Services, an Eveleth company that specializes in thawing frozen water lines and pipes. While temperatures were colder last year, the abundant snowfall that came with those temperatures helped to protect water lines and septic systems at most rural residences.
But this year, “there’s little snow cover,” said Rogers, who was working on a frozen water line when contacted by the Timberjay this week. “People have to be aware of it.”
That means residents should know where their water lines, septic systems, and drainfields are located and make sure that they provide adequate insulation. In a normal year, snow (which is an excellent insulator) will typically do the job. But in a dry winter, like this one, the available snow may not be sufficient to protect your water and sewer lines, especially if the snow is tramped down, or plowed away.
“A lot of times, I’m dealing with people who bought a four-wheeler with a plow. Then they plow their whole yard and wonder why their water line freezes.”
While the situation is not yet extreme, there’s still plenty of winter ahead, and this year has the potential to rival the winter of 2003-04, when the majority of rural septic systems in St. Louis County froze, creating widespread inconvenience for rural residents. At this same point in the winter of 2003-2004, the frost had only penetrated 48 inches, according to MnDOT data, and the frost never reached deeper than 72 inches the entire winter. That year, it was the lack of snow that created the widespread problems with freezing.
Rogers said 2003-04 was one of the worst years in memory for frozen water lines and septics. “It was worse than last year, even,” he said. “I had four crews going around-the-clock,” he said.
Whether this year equals 2003-04 in the end depends on temperatures and snowfall during the second half of the winter. Even average temperatures going forward could pose a serious problem without more snow, so residents will want to pay attention to the weather and take steps soon to try to head off potential problems.
The Minnesota Extension Service offers a number of tips for preventing septic system freeze-ups. Those tips include:
•Add a 8-12-inch layer of mulch over the pipes, tank, and drainfield.
• Make sure all risers, inspection pipes and manholes have proper fitting caps.
•Risers need to be insulated.
•Keep all traffic, including people and vehicles, off the system.
•Fix any leaky plumbing. Small trickles of water going into the system can freeze, eventually closing pipes.
•If you are going to be gone for an extended time, pump the tank.
•If you have a high-efficiency furnace, collect the drain water in a large container. This does not need to go into your septic system since it is clean water.
• Most systems depend on gravity flow. If improper slope to the pipes is suspected, have the pipes televised by a septic professional.
If you think freezing is about to happen, do not leave water running all the time since this will hydraulically overload your system. Do not add antifreeze to the system. Use normal amounts of water, the warmer the better. If your system has frozen, contact a sewage professional who can help determine the cause of freezing and offer solutions.
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