Jill Pullan thought her leaky kitchen faucet would keep her pipes from freezing on New Year's Eve when she left to care for her sick mother.
She was wrong.Nearly two weeks later, the section of pipe that extends from the house she is renting to the water meter still is frozen. If not for rubber hoses provided by Salt Lake City, Pullan still would be hauling buckets from the neighbors, as she did for six days, just to be able to flush her toilet.
"The laundry and dishes really stacked up," said Pullan, who lives with her three children ages 16, 13 and 8. "It was horrible."
Her landlord, Patrick McCauley, said Wednesday he is stuck in a dispute with the city over who should pay to thaw the pipe. He says the pipe froze because the city's meter froze and that city workers told him the city was responsible when workers first inspected the problem.
City officials, however, say the pipe froze first and the ice spread to the meter. The city's policy is to repair damage to any water main, but all pipes from the water meter into the house belong to the property owner.
In this case, the water meter is near the intersection of 6060 South and Highland Drive. (Although the house is outside Salt Lake City limits, the area gets its water from the city's delivery system.) The house is 536 feet away. McCauley said it will cost $5,000 just to thaw the pipe. Compounding the problem is the fact the pipe is under a road owned by Salt Lake County - a road that will have to be torn apart to make the repair.
"It's his problem. He just refuses to accept that," said City Water Director LeRoy W. Hooton Jr. "We've tried to work with him. Our crews put the hoses in. We've done everything we can to cooperate with him."
Hooton said the city would set an expensive precedent if it decided to fix the pipe. During the recent cold weather, the city responded to 1,694 reports of burst pipes. In 404 of those cases, the pipes had frozen between the meter and the house.
Hooton said his investigators told him the city's meter did not cause the problem in Pullan's house. As for the distance between the house and the meter, Hooton said developers are responsible for extending city water mains to the properties they develop.
"That would be great if these houses hadn't been developed separately over a 50-year period of time," McCauley said.
County Commissioner Randy Horiuchi visited the site Wednesday and offered to give McCauley the necessary permits to dig to the pipes free of charge. He also said the county will repair the road at no cost, and he offered to help "cajole" the city into helping.
Meanwhile, Tamara Barnes, who lives near Pullan and who owns a venture capital company known as Bartech, said she is organizing a coalition of local businesses that will pay to thaw the pipe and will pay the approximately $20,000 to extend a water main down the street.
"It isn't that much money to a group of businesses, but it's a devastating amount for the homeowner," Barnes said. She said she originally started forming the coalition, which she calls the Protective Angel Fund, to help the homeless, and she's still seeking support.