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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Frozen Pipes, Cold Winters, and a few Warm Lessons

It's been a long cold winter, the ground has sustained frost to a depth we could not forecast.  Devon, like all the surrounding municipalities, is dealing with more frozen water pipe problems than normal... about 150 to 200% times the normal rate across our region.  Naturally, when somebody doesn't have running water, that's a huge issue.  Some people and some businesses are impacted in Devon.  Our municipal staff have been working hard to remedy it, but there is only so much they can do.  It's also impacting Edmonton where it's been an ongoing story.

People affected have been provided with potable water at no charge to them.  In cases where residents were impacted, workarounds have been provided until normal service is restored.  Apparently, in some cases, this means a hose hooked up to a neighbors outside water supply with heat wrap.  They, of course, will not be charged for the water and they've been asked to leave it running a bit so that it won't freeze up.

I asked, at the Council meeting, if there was anything more we could do.  Everybody is quite concerned and we want to see the repairs completed forthwith.  In short, we wanted to know that the full force and might of our municipal resources have been brought to bear on this problem.  We were told they have.

But like any story, there's some more to it.  We've bought a new piece of equipment that will help, but we are still beholden to one huge reality, we can't change Mother Nature's mind.  As the mercury rises and the snow pack (or glacial till as I refer to it in my yard) starts to melt, we have to keep our catchments clean or else there will be flooding.  Our people are working hard at all the tasks at hand, and some are even researching what new technologies we might use.  Most technologies, as we all know, are nearly futile in the face of the power of Mother Nature when she wishes to get our attention.  I'll research ideas to see if there's something more we can do that we have not already done, and so will our staff.

The work will continue and all our resources will be leveraged.  We're reaching out to other municipalities to find out what they're doing to see if there's anything more we can possibly do.  But what we're finding is that it's a problem that has happened because of the brutally cold temperatures and the depth of the frost. 

It might take a few more days to restore service, perhaps in some cases, it could be even more than a week until the ground is thawed enough for us to completely restore all the water service that has been interrupted.  We won't stop working hard until the job is done. 

I wish this were an easy task, I'd even offer to grab a shovel and dig myself, but that would be a fools folly, like the time my Tool Push and Driller asked me to dig a cellar for a drilling rig.  They enjoyed watching me try to dig a huge hole in the frozen ground with a pick and shovel.  They knew a backhoe was coming.  But it was all in good fun.  It was a rite of passage for a new roughneck, and I knew it was just that... but I whacked away with the pick and shovel for a good 6 hours until they finally tired of the prank.  It was cold, the ground was frozen stiff, and as you may suspect, I didn't get far.

Our water problem, however, is not prank.  It is something that has been brought on by Mother Nature.  And according to the research I've done, Mother Nature is likely to be ever more fickle as we head into the next couple of decades.  According to our best efforts to predict future climate (a challenge at best) Natural Resources Canada is forecasting more winter precipitation, figures range from 10 to 25% more.  For the Council, that means we need to be cognizant of probable variances in our future snow removal budgets.  All in all, likely to be on the high side.  One more reason to exercise fiscal prudence in our day to day decisions and longer term strategic planning.

Today, of course, there were the usual follow up meetings.  Tidying up a few items I had questions about and meeting with a few key personnel to be sure we were all on the same page.  This is a great municipality and we've got awesome staff... right across the board.  Oh, there might be a hiccup or two now and then, but what organization is without hiccups and the occasional missed shot.  It's like a hockey team, we can't be perfect, but if we play well as a team, we win a lot.  I also have another job, so off I went, out to work at Leduc #1, where we have lots of stuff to do for our AGM.  Over the lunch hour, I met with the executive board of CKUA (click here to listen live) to discuss some important items.  Plus, I had to run the usual errands anybody has to run. 

After a couple of very hard weeks with a ton of appointments, engagements, and even some time at the Prime Minister's rally in Beaumont, I was pretty tired when I got home.  Upon arrival... I had orders waiting from my wife.  I was to disassemble a bunk bed.  I grumbled a bit.  Well, OK, maybe a tad more than a bit.  I just wanted to watch the news and relax a bit, catch up on Twitter news and post up a few items... taxes can wait for another day.

To disassemble a bunk bed, one needs to have a few tools and a little time.  It turns out that my wonderful wife sold our daughter's bunk bed to a friend, and she sold it for what might be called a small price... a bargain.  As I feverishly worked to get it torn apart, I wondered what kind of bed I would be buying to replace this one.  We haven't gotten to that part yet.  My daughter will take over the guest room that was once my office.  Funny how I keep getting less and less space and my girls seem to get more and more space.  That's a different topic for a different day.

So... the facts.  I don't have a money tree, and if I did, it certainly wouldn't grow under the still lingering blanket of snow.  Like most people, I'm pretty happy to pay the bills and have enough for coffee! 

There I was, drill in hand, undoing this bunk bed that's in like new condition being sold at a fraction of the price we paid for it.  Not everybody hauls in the big pay.  After a long day of trying to solve problems that I didn't create, here was another one.  A rather unwelcome task if ever there was.

As I was working, my wife explained to me how this bed was sold to a friend who was moving into Maddison Manor.  For those who might not know, that's a low income housing complex recently built right here in Devon by the Leduc Foundation.  We're fortunate to have it and it's fully occupied already. 

As I worked away, I think my wife could see I was feeling kind of stressed.  She said, "oh, perhaps there was a greater power at work, this friend needs the bed for her kids".  It didn't take much for me to connected the dots. 

My workload immediately shrank and, in fact, changed to a labour of love.  Through my wife's guidance, I took a moment to realize how lucky we truly are.  We live in Devon, a wonderful community with great people who really care about each other.  If there's trouble, people step up to help.  We all work to make Devon a better place to live.  I learned something from everybody today.  It's a good day when people take you to school, because as I'm fond of saying, I never once learned anything while I was speaking.  I did a lot of listening today.  And I think I came away with a few lessons.

On Friday, when I deliver the bed, I'll go in with my tools and build it for this friend of ours.  And when this person goes to pay me, I'll ask, instead, if they might want to consider a donation to a charity of their choice.  Even if a donation can't be made now, there will come a day when this person will be able to do something for somebody else who could use a favour. 

I learned a lot from my wife today.  Sometimes she teaches me lessons in ways I don't always understand right away.  But to my credit, I think after almost 15 years of marriage, I'm close to being trained up.  I listen to her and think about her words.  I'm truly lucky to have my family, my friends, and this place called Devon in this great and beautiful country of ours.  How lucky I truly am... to have so many friends and to associate with so many fine people.  If one can measure their wealth by the value of their friends and neighbors, then I guess I'm about the richest guy around.

The way I see it, one good deed is like tossing a pebble into a still pond.  It'll create ripples that spread out in all directions.  In so doing, perhaps I will have done something to help somebody I don't even know.  But whoever it is, they will be part of our family, our Devon family and our Canadian family. 

I will be following up on the water issue every day until it's fixed.  The bunk bed, on the other hand, is only a commitment of a few hours.  And to think some child will sleep comfortably in their own new (well nearly new) bunk bed, all comfy and snuggly under their blankies getting tucked into bed by their Mommy.  I do believe I'll be able to feel a little bit better knowing that even though it was a very small difference, the ripples of goodwill shall go forth. 

Maybe I'm starting to find my way with the help of my wonderful wife.  I don't know... but the voyage certainly is fun and unpredictable.  Just the way I like it.

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