Brown water is coming out of taps across Winnipeg, and city officials are still unable to explain why it’s happening. 

Bob Borsa lives in Transcona in a brand new home but hasn’t been able to use his tub since he moved in because the tap is running coffee-coloured water.

"This was [my wife’s] dream bathroom. We spent a fair bit of money putting this bathroom in, and she’s not been able to use it," said Borsa.

Brown water calls

The City of Winnipeg's 311 phone line has received a growing number of calls regarding discoloured water in the past year:

  • July 2012: 387
  • July 2013: 467
  • August 2012: 595
  • August 2013: 1,286

A spokesperson noted that the numbers are slightly skewed because the city improved its reporting of information requests this year.

(Source: City of Winnipeg)

Borsa isn’t the only one affected. Residents all over the city are making calls to 311 to complain about brown water showing up in their sinks, tubs and toilets.

City officials maintain the water is safe, but Borsa isn’t so sure.

"You don’t know. You just don’t know right? Is it something in the water that can affect your health immediately or long term?" he said.

Borsa demanded the city test his water. He said city officials complied and told him the water is safe because it has acceptable chlorine levels, but tests for bacteria and metal haven’t come back yet.

"I wouldn’t drink this water, would you?" said Borsa, holding up a cup of murky water.

Tim Shanks is Winnipeg’s water distribution engineer. He said the water is safe for everyone to use.

"I appreciate our customers’ frustration and appreciate their patience with us, but we have to reassure them that the water is safe," he said.

But, he added, it’s not recommended to use it to prepare food or beverages.

Discoloured water is often caused by a change in the flow of water, which can release more sediment from the pipes into the water supply. And this summer's dry conditions have meant more people are using water.

But Shanks couldn’t say for certain why the problem is so widespread.

"We’re looking into things like water chemistry or operational changes," he said.

Last year, the city hired an external consultant to look at the issue, but it hasn’t yet been solved.

City officials are advising residents to run cold water for 10 minutes until it becomes clear but that will cost about 25 cents each time. And city officials said it won’t reimburse people on their water bills because the water can still be used for watering plants or the lawn.