Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Battle against brown water set for weekend

City crews tackle River Heights, North End

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City hall has scratched frozen pipes off its to-do list and is turning its attention to brown water.

Civic officials said Thursday they would begin a key component of the discoloured-water containment program.

Crews from the water and waste utility will begin flushing water lines this weekend to rid the system of excessive amounts of manganese -- the material identified as the cause of the brown water that was widespread last year.

Geoff Patton, the utility's manager of engineering, said crews will begin flushing water lines in River Heights and the North End.

"We expect improvements in discoloured-water reports" as a series of initiatives is implemented, Patton said.

Accelerated line-flushing is part of a program to contain the discoloured water.

The city normally flushes all of its water lines -- a combined 2,585 kilometres -- every six years, but that was fast-tracked to a two-year cycle.

The city used to have about 100 reports a month of discoloured water, but the numbers jumped in 2012 and peaked in August 2013 at 1,600 reports.

City and health officials repeatedly said the putrid-looking brown water is safe to drink -- but did not recommend anyone drink or bathe in it or use it for cooking or laundry.

Ironically, manganese is released into Winnipeg's water supply as a by-product of a chemical compound -- ferric chloride -- added to the water supply to make it easier to clean the water lines.

The problem became severe in 2009 after the construction of a new water-treatment plant. The plant filters out ferric chloride but not manganese -- which attaches to the lining of the water lines and is released with a sudden change in water flow such as a water-main break or repair. The manganese is released in clumps of various sizes and floats through the water system until it's drawn into a household line.

The utility normally starts its line-flushing in late May, but that was delayed this year as a result of frozen pipes.

The utility had no staff to flush the lines -- and even if it did, a large portion of city water lines remained frozen, and too many households were running their water as a precaution to prevent line freezing.

Patton said when crews move into a neighbourhood to initiate line-flushing, homeowners are advised not to run their taps. Patton said that wasn't possible when so many homes had running taps to prevent freezing.

But the city informed more than 10,000 homeowners Wednesday they can stop running their taps and the line-flushing will begin this weekend.

Patton said the accelerated line-flushing program is one of several initiatives identified by a consultant earlier this year to contain brown water.

So far, the city has spent about $200,000 on the measures.

Additional crews, working longer hours, will conduct line-flushing.

For locations of water-line flushing, see the link below to check the area of the map where you live.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 4, 2014 B3

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