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Q. Why is the utility responsible for thawing the customerís portion of the service lateral when insurance providers will no longer insure electrical thaws on conductive services?

Our primary intent is to place the responsibility with the water utility.  Accordingly, the Wisconsin Administrative Code requires the water utility assist water customers with frozen service laterals to achieve reasonable solutions.  We appreciate your concern where insurance providers are no longer willing to accept the risks associated with the practice of electrically thawing conductive laterals.  Nonetheless, this does not change our perspective on the role and obligation of the utility.

We are aware of several instances where utilities have not been able to thaw the lateral electrically or using hot water.  In these situations providing another source of water until the lateral thaws is an acceptable alternative, such as back feeding the home via a neighbor’s house or a fire hydrant. 

There may be situations where the lateral cannot be thawed without excavation and steam injections.  It is not the intention of PSC staff to require the utility to excavate the lateral in this situation.  It is conceivable that it may not be practical to make water available in some situations where large areas or even mains experience cold weather operational problems.  These scenarios default to a community emergency instead of a nuisance and inconvenience.  We have not seen or heard of this happening but it could.  If it did it may well result in some dwelling spaces going without water for a lengthy period of time.  Homes may not even be inhabitable during such period.  Our Codes have not been written to address such a wide-scale event and emergency management “rules of engagement” would dictate how that very different type of situation would be handled.

In summary, we think the best practice is preventive action.  This includes monitoring frost depth and communication with problematic areas.  It should include asking customers to allow the water to run where known laterals and mains are prone to freeze.  Under first thaw situations, we believe the utility should work with the customer to get the pipes thawed…or failing that, provide them with alternative sources of water.  It is not possible to address the myriad of individual circumstances that can arise under this topic so if you have any specific questions, please call the Public Service Commission and we would be happy to discuss them with you.