Mechanical malfunction blamed for Swan River's evaporating water supply

Crews in Swan River, Man., have discovered the problem that led to the town's potable water supply almost drying up, but repairs likely won't be done until later this week.

Conservation efforts still necessary to top up town's reservoir, then repairs can be made

Crews work through the night to find what's causing Swan River's water supply to dwindle. (Rick Wowchuk/Facebook)

Crews in Swan River, Man., have discovered the problem that led to the town's potable water supply almost drying up, but repairs likely won't be done until later this week.

As a result, the town's nearly 4,000 residents are being asked to continue conserving water until Thursday.

"We have contractors and materials on the way to make the repairs, but we can't do that until the reservoir in the water treatment plant is full," said deputy mayor Lance Jacobson.

The town, about 380 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, is now pumping water "at a very low rate" from the wells to the reservoir, "so that's great news for us," Jacobson said.

The initial belief was that the underground line linking the town's wells and treatment centre was broken. (Rick Wowchuk/Facebook)

A malfunction of some valves inside two of the town's three wells affected the pump system on the weekend. That, in turn, prevented the well water from reaching the treatment plant, which meant the available supply diminished quickly.

A state of emergency was called Sunday after officials noticed the problem around 8 p.m. CT Saturday.

Residents were told to reduce their water use to just two litres a day for drinking and two litres a day for cooking and sanitation. Volunteers have been handing out cases of bottled water that were trucked in Sunday evening.

An emergency water station for potable water has also been set up at the Swan Valley School Division trade centre, while portable toilets are set up in the car wash bay at the Swan Valley Co-op.

Officials were worried the reservoir would run out of water by midnight Sunday but due to conservation efforts by the community, that was extended to noon on Monday.

Two semi-trailer truck loads of bottled water were taken to Swan River on Sunday after a water shortage forced the town the call a local state of emergency. (Rick Wowchuk/Facebook)

Now that the water is running to the reservoir again, the fear of going dry has eased. But, Jacobson reiterated, it is important to keep conserving because the reservoir needs to be full.

At the current flow rate, he expects that to take until Wednesday. The more people conserve, the quicker the reservoir can be filled and the system repaired.

There needs to be a large supply because crews will need to shut down the town's wells to make repairs. Whatever is in the reservoir will be all the town has while that is being done.

The repairs will take Wednesday and into Thursday, Jacobson said.

"Hopefully, by the end of the week, we're back up and running again like normal," he said.

Initially, the problem was believed to be a break in the line that feeds the water treatment plant, but a lot of digging has proven that line "is perfectly fine," Jacobson said.

​The valve problem is a far better scenario, he said.

He praised residents for responding so well to the conservation efforts, which have impacted everyone.

"Everybody understands how critical the situation can be," Jacobson said.

Schools and daycares are closed, as are the town's aquatic centre and Centennial Arena. Many businesses and restaurants decided not to open Monday, though Jacobson has heard some restaurants will offer "limited services."

​The town's health centre, which is open, has water available through a tank system provided by disaster management officials. However, elective surgeries and dialysis treatments have been cancelled, with dialysis patients being moved to surrounding communities.

Jacobson also lauded the public works crews who pushed through the cold weather and frozen ground to solve the mystery.

"This has never happened in our town's history. It's quite unprecedented," he said. "But we're gonna get through this."

Crews in Swan River, Man., have discovered the problem that led to the town's potable water supply almost drying up, but repairs likely won't be done until later this week. As a result, the town's nearly 4,000 residents are being asked to continue conserving water until Thursday. 1:50