Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Discoloured tap water continues to stymie officials

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THERE has been a 100 per cent increase in the number of households reporting discoloured water in their taps this year, but city officials still have no firm explanation for it.

Diane Sacher, director of the city's water and waste department, told a civic committee Tuesday every means possible is being employed to determine the cause of the 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 estimates one per cent of city households -- 3,500 to 4,000 homes -- will experience discoloured water in their taps this year.

She 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.

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 others in the same neighbourhood.

Sacher said high consumption of water during the summer months increases flows through pipes, which releases built-up sediment.

Officials have said they suspect some of the problem may be the unauthorized use of water by contractors, causing a sudden change in the volume of water flowing through city distribution pipes and stirring up sediment.

Others say the city's aging water pipes may be contributing to the problem.

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.

South Osborne resident Barb Eastveld said she's not confident the city will solve this problem.

"With all the experts in this city, nothing has been done," Eastveld said, adding she first experienced brown water in 2010. City officials blamed it on the Jubilee Underpass project.

"There's always a lot of talk but nobody has any answers," Eastveld said. "For the average person, this just gets in the way of life."

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

Sacher said consultants were hired a year ago 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 several days.

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

Civic infrastructure renewal and public works committee chairman Coun. Dan Vandal (St. Boniface) said he expects the cause to be found and a solution put in place.

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

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 11, 2013 B1

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