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Why the boil-water advisory was issued

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On Oct. 8 the provincial government issued the first precautionary "Boil-Water Advisory" (BWA) in the history of the City of Winnipeg.  

This advisory covered most of southern St. Vital, stretching from the Red River to the Seine, between the Perimeter and Bishop Grandin. About three-quarters of this area lies in my Ward, with the remainder (west of Dakota, south of Nova Vista) lying in St. Norbert Ward. I am writing this article to explain why the BWA was issued, why it was lifted one day later, and what I have been doing as the St. Vital councillor in response to this important health issue.

The City of Winnipeg continuously tests drinking water for safety. On Oct. 8 provincial drinking water officials and a number of health professionals issued an advisory after tests found low levels of bacteria in three water samples (i.e. positive test results). The provincial officials’ concern was finding three results in a concentrated testing area (south St Vital).  

The resampling of water from the south St. Vital area was performed the next day, and the resamplings were negative for total coliform and E. coli. There were no known breaches in water pipes, and levels of bacteria-killing chlorine were satisfactory in both the initial and resampling results. The advisory was lifted on Oct. 9 after the retesting results became known. In short, a problem in testing — not yet determined — produced three "false positive" results. It was a false alarm, on a very large scale.

After this flurry of activity, my office organized a town hall meeting for south St. Vital residents at Darwin School on Oct. 28 to discuss boil-water and discoloured water issues. We mailed out 7,000 leaflets advising residents of the meeting, and had a full house to provide feedback.

Residents have made it clear that the city needs to do a better job of advising the public when a boil-water advisory is issued, as many people did not learn of the advisory until 12 or more hours after it was issued.  We also need to review our testing procedures to minimize the number of flawed results.  

The City of Winnipeg remains committed to frequent water quality monitoring. The boil-water advisory did not pose a risk to public health, but I am committed to ensuring that we learn from this, and was pleased to hold the town hall meeting to discuss your concerns. If you have further comments, please contact my office.

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