New water bottle-filling stations could pop up in Winnipeg in an effort to help vulnerable folks cope with future heat waves.

New water bottle-filling stations could pop up in Winnipeg in an effort to help vulnerable folks cope with future heat waves.

If council approves, a new pilot project seeks to connect three such stations to the municipal water supply during the “extreme heat season,” which typically lasts June to September.

“We went through a heat wave this summer, and what we found was there was a real need in our vulnerable populations in downtown, actually in all (areas) … in making sure people stay hydrated,” said Jason Shaw, Winnipeg assistant chief of emergency management.

With climate change expected to increase the number of extremely hot days in Winnipeg going forward, he said, “We need to be prepared for these changes in environment and these extreme weather events.”

A city report notes providing access to clean drinking water is expected to help reduce the most serious heat-related illnesses, by preventing severe dehydration and elevated body temperatures.

If approved by council, the project would cost about $10,000.

The municipal government would also waive about $300 of fees each year to provide free access to city water. That access would be used by the water bottle-filling stations and all temporary drinking water supply trailers approved by emergency management.

The water trailers have been used to address extreme heat situations since 2017, with the city placing them in areas where vulnerable Winnipeggers tend to spend time.

End Homelessness Winnipeg welcomed the filling station proposal Friday, noting access to water is critical for those experiencing homelessness, who may spend lengthy periods outdoors in all types of weather.

While the current water tanks are well-used, filling stations with a steady water supply would be easier to maintain, said Kris Clemens, the non-profit organization’s manager of communication and community relations.

“It is nice to see this evolution coming from the emergency management office towards something that will be more sustainable and definitely help to mitigate the health impacts of extreme heat on people experiencing homelessness. But, ultimately… having publicly accessible water filling stations will (also) be a benefit for every Winnipeg resident during extremely hot days,” said Clemens.

Coun. Brian Mayes, who leads council’s water and waste committee, said he expects to support the proposal, deeming it an innovative and affordable anti-poverty initiative.

The report does not set specific locations to add the new stations, noting those spots would be chosen by emergency management officials.

While Environment Canada guidelines result in heat alerts when temperatures exceed 32 C or the humidex soars part 38 C on two or more consecutive days, a City of Winnipeg report notes an extreme heat response can begin prior to that point.

Twitter: @joyanne_pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Joyanne Pursaga

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.