Brown tap water woes plague St. James family

One Winnipeg family is seeing rising costs and health concerns from consistently brown water in St. James.

St. James family frustrated with discoloured water coming from tap

A bowl of yellow-brown water sits on the counter in Scott Lengyel's St. James kitchen — it's typical of what's been coming out of the tap off and on since May 2012. CBC’s Aadel Haleem reports. 1:37

A bowl of yellow-brown water sits on the counter in Scott Lengyel's St. James kitchen — it's typical of what's been coming out of the tap off and on since May 2012.

This dirty water is a paler version of what normally comes out of Scott and Erin Lengyel's tap, the couple says. (CBC)

"It can actually look like iced tea," Lengyel said. "We've had some stuff that's come in so dark, it almost looks like a pop, like a darker soda. It can be really really black. It's really disgusting when you see it."

Lengyel said the water has become discoloured without warning and sometimes stays that way for hours.

His wife, Erin, said it's become a huge challenge since the birth of their daughter, Braelyn, who is now 16 months old.

"I have to boil water. There are times when I can't even feed her fresh fruit or vegetables because I can't clean (them with) the water that I have. So I'm still giving her baby food, just to meet any of her needs," she said.

Even when the water runs clear, she doesn't give it to Braelyn.

"I don't trust it, not when it's been turning brown on and off for over a year. So we bought the nursery water at Toys R Us because I didn't feel safe," said Erin. 

The family has also been relying on bottled water.

Erin said it's costing the family a small fortune in other ways, too.

"It's the added expense of clothes we've had to throw away because (the brown water) destroyed white tops. It's the added cost of having to run our washing machine two or three times when the water has turned brown and we didn't know. It's the added cost of running our water," she said, adding the city said tells residents to run their water if they see discoloured water coming out of their taps.

Lengyel said she's called 311 dozens of times to complain.

"I'm so angry. At this point, I think they should be helping cover costs because I'm throwing away money," she said.

It's a similar story for Becky Conia in River Heights — intermittent, murky water for the last year.

"Last night we go to give my son, who's four, a bath and it's like rust, like orange rust coming out my bathroom tub,"  she said.

City staff told Conia it was due to problems at some of the pumping stations, but they didn't know when it would be fixed. She's fed up.

"I was really upset because I couldn't give my son a bath. Kids are outside, they're playing in sand, and I'm not putting him in dirty water, forget it," she said. "Now, I'm at the point where, you know what? This has been taking place too long."

Both families said they have checked with neighbours who say they're having the same problems. Scott Lengyel said the city's most recent explanation for the discoloured water in St. James is problems at the city's new water treatment plant.

He said city staff told him the problems were actually worse in Charleswood.

"We just want somebody to come and tell us, tell everybody, what the situation is," he said.

He said the city has a mixed message for how residents should handle murky water.

"'Don't drink it. But it's safe if you do.' I'm like, OK, that doesn't make any sense. You're contradicting yourself in the same sentence. What's the reality? What's the truth?" he said.

On Monday, city officials told CBC they were aware there were water problems in the River Heights area for the past "few days."

City officials said crews are investigating and that the water distribution system in the area is very sensitive to "upsets" like water main breaks, valve operations or hydrant use.

They said crews are working to prevent and minimize the incident of discoloured water and said they advise residents to avoid using the water for an hour. They also said residents can try again in 30 minutes if water appears discoloured or dirty.

Drinking the discoloured water "should not make you sick," city officials said, but they don’t advise residents drink it. They also said residents should hold off on doing laundry or dishes in dark water.