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No explanation for increase in 'brown' water reports

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Brown water fills a bathroom sink in a Winnipeg home in the St. John's neighbourhood on Sept. 1.

ADAM WAZNY / FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

Brown water fills a bathroom sink in a Winnipeg home in the St. John's neighbourhood on Sept. 1.

There’s been a 100 per cent increase in the number of households reporting discoloured water in their tap water this year but city officials have no explanation for the development.

Diane Sacher, director of the city’s water and waste department, told the a civic committee this morning that every means possible is being employed to determine the cause of brown water.

"I’ve experienced it in my own home so I know that it’s happening out there," Sacher told reporters following a meeting of the infrastructure renewal and public works committee.

Sacher said a consulting firm has been hired at a cost of $35,000, extensive testing of tap water is being conducted across the city, and remedial measures are being taken.

Sacher said discoloured water has been an annual occurrence in the city for decades but added there have been twice as many complaints this year from past years with no explanation.

Sacher said Manitoba Health has tested the water and concluded it doesn’t pose a health hazard but she said the city is advising homeowners not to drink it, bathe in it, cook with it, or wash their dishes or clothes in it.

"The water is coloured but there aren’t bacteria and pathogens in the water that will make you sick," Sacher said. "We’re telling people don’t drink that water but medical professionals are saying even if you did, you wouldn’t get sick from it."

Coun. Brian Mayes (St. Vital) said city staff should refrain from trying to minimize the situation by describing discoloured water as an aesthetic issue.

Sacher said consultants were hired a year ago when the problem was worse than the year before and are now concentrating research on the situation that developed in August when there was a spike in the number of complaints across the city.

Discoloured water generally makes its appearance in city homes between May and October.

Normally, the city’s standard response to complaints of discoloured water is to tell homeowners to let their cold water run for about five minutes; if the water is not clear, wait 30 minutes and repeat. If the water is not clear after three hours, make a complaint with the 311 system.

However, this year, the presence of discoloured water was persistent in many households and, for some, lasted for several days.

The cause is sometimes placed on crews doing work on underground water pipes, Sacher said, but officials are unable to explain why one home is affected and not any others in the same neighbourhood.

Sacher said high consumption of water during the summer months increases flows through pipes that releases build-up sediment.

Sacher said city staff will take water samples from homes that have had repeat occurrences.

Sacher estimated that 1 per cent of city households – 3,500-4,000 homes – will experience discoloured water in their taps this year.

Committee chair Coun. Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) said he expects the cause to be found and a solution put in place.

"The complaints are coming from all over the city of Winnipeg," Vandal said. "I’m confident the worst is behind us."

Vandal said the city will consider claims for clothing damaged as a result of being washed in the discoloured water.

"If everything is legitimate, they’ll get reimbursed," Vandal said, adding claims must be made through the 311 system, which will provide details.

 

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

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