Eight Greenfield families get hosed by horrid winter weather

Left without water, they have to wait for thaw of service lines

March 11, 2014

Greenfield — It has been a miserable winter for just about everybody, but for eight families on Cold Spring Road, it has been unbelievably dry, as well.

Since the end of January, they would have had no water at all if not for the goodness of those living next door.

The families, scattered between 28th and 33rd streets, have been getting water from hoses that run from their neighbors' homes, the only immediate solution offered by the Milwaukee Water Works in response to frozen water-service laterals.

Help from a hose

The deep frost from this winter's extremely cold weather has burrowed down to their extra-long laterals from the water main to their homes.

The hoses have meant the families can use dishwashers and washing machines, and they could even have hot showers, though not at a level of water pressure that makes rinsing shampooed hair a quick task.

Randy Ashland, who hasn't had regular water service for three weeks, said the biggest problem with the makeshift arrangement has been trying to keep that water source from freezing. Even though the faucet in the basement runs full-blast all the time, the key connection point has frozen four times and he has had to go outside and thaw it out.

Ashland said he's thankful to have such good neighbors, and he hates to inconvenience them by having the hose run through their basement window to his home or forcing them to persevere other inconveniences tied to joint water use.

Not until spring thaw?

Unfortunately, residents have been told by Milwaukee Water Works officials that the arrangement might have to go on until May, said Alderwoman Linda Lubotsky, in whose district the families live.

The reason? They will have to wait behind Milwaukee families who have had no water at all for many weeks.

Because the frost has run so deep this winter, the Water Works has set a record 244 water main breaks, blasting past the previous record of 224, officials report. It has been taking about four days to thaw just one house.

However, Lubotsky weighed in on that long timetable and reported that Carrie Lewis, superintendent of Milwaukee Water Works, seems to be more receptive to fixing Greenfield's problem earlier.

"You might tell my residents you'll be back in May or June, but you're not telling me that," Lubotsky said she told Water Works officials.

Still, Lewis said help is still probably weeks away. The water situation is so bad, with pipes breaking and laterals freezing, that the Water Works have hired as many contractors as they can to restore service, she said.

"We have contractors — as many as we can get and manage," Lewis said. "We are pulling out all the stops."

Striving to bring help to the Greenfield homes sooner, Lubotsky, Public Works Director Dan Ewert and others are working on getting a contractor to thaw the Greenfield homes out, in conjunction with Milwaukee.

"It's not our responsibility. The water in Greenfield is owned and operated by the Milwaukee Water Works," Ewert said. "But we don't think the water should be off."

At what cost, to who?

Later on, Greenfield and Milwaukee will settle who should pay, Ewert said.

Some of the residents were told that they would have to pay Milwaukee Water Works up to $13,000 to get thawed out, Lubotsky said.

One desperate woman, her voice cracking, told her that her family doesn't have anywhere near that kind of money, Lubotsky said. And others have bills from plumbers they hired because Milwaukee told them the problem was theirs.

Rick Shircel was one of those. His home has been without water for more than a month. Milwaukee Water Works inspectors came but said the problem was that the lateral was frozen at his home and that he would have to call a plumber himself.

The plumber said lateral coming from the house was fine, but that it was frozen under the street and certainly not Shircel's problem. Nonetheless, Shircel was stuck with a $130 plumbers bill.

Lubotsky said she got those special charges waived and the Water Works agreed to reimburse people for the plumbers.

"I said my residents aren't paying anything," she said.

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