An unprecedented cold spell in Moab has resulted in frozen water pipes all over town. The prolonged sub-freezing temperatures have wreaked unprecedented havoc on Moab’s water system. Ron pierce has lived here since 1954 and is considered a local weather expert.
"As far as I can remember it’s the coldest spell we’ve had for a long, long, long time. The average cold temperature for the month I think has been about 3.4, something like that, for the month of January."
That’s compared to historical average minimums of 18 degrees in January. The problems have been complicated by lingering snow cover.
"My understanding is that when the snowpack stays it has a tendency to be colder. It doesn’t stay on the ground very long, but this year it’s been on there since the first storm we had."
As a result, both public and private water lines have been freezing all over town, forcing some to take up residence in local motels. Jeff Foster is director of Moab’s public works department.
"This year we’ve had close to 120 meters freeze up at least once, some of them up to three or four times, and we’ve had four major water line breaks, water mains, and several smaller ones that we have had to go out and repair in this weather. We’ve also had to hire a contract crew to help on some of the major water line breaks we’ve had."
The mayor has issued a proclamation calling for warmer weather. Meanwhile, Foster says Moab might have to re-think its codes and practices for protecting freezing pipes.
"This has been an unusual year, we haven’t had this happen to this extent before. So, yeah, we’re thinking things through, trying to look at it more like, if our temperatures are going to continue in this direction, that we come up with new standards that cover a colder temperature climate."
In desperation, many residents have resorted to some unsafe practices.
"Using torches to heat up water lines, sometimes they’ll use things that can actually start fires, putting newspapers around valving and lighting it on fire, things like that, just probably not a good idea."
The city is trying to encourage frugal and green-minded residents to leave a tap on with a slow stream. Foster says it will add less than a dollar to your monthly water bill, during a time when city water tanks are overflowing.