Winnipeg’s brown water worst in 40 years, expert says

It's a problem that doesn't seem to be going away — brown water coming from taps across the City of Winnipeg.

Toxicologist says city’s water situation never been this bad or widespread in her career

Brown water regularly comes out of the tap at Bob Borsa's brand new home in Transcona. (CBC)

It’s a problem that doesn’t seem to be going away — brown water coming from taps across the City of Winnipeg.

City officials have been unable to say what exactly is causing the brown water and why it’s happening in so many homes. Residents have been advised to let cold water run before using it, but they’ve also been told the water is safe.

Tim Shanks is the City of Winnipeg’s water distribution engineer. On Thursday, he reiterated the brown water is safe.

"We have no indication whatsoever that there’s any health concerns or safety issues with the water," he said.

Eva Pip is a toxicology professor at the University of Winnipeg. She has been studying water in the city for almost 40 years and said she can’t remember a time when the city’s water has been this bad.

Pip said she hasn’t seen problems "as widespread and over such an extended period of time as what we are seeing now."

And despite what Shankes said, she doesn’t think Winnipeggers should be drinking it.

"The composition of some of that silt can be quite complex, so you really don’t know at any given time when you have that brown water coming out exactly what is in it," she said.

Pip said she’s found organic matter like silt in the brown water, but she has also found clay and rust.

Last year, the City of Winnipeg hired an external consultant to look at the issue, but so far, they have no answers.

There are numerous theories about the cause — everything from increased construction to breaks in the pipes to water theft.

But Pip said she doesn’t think water theft is to blame.

"If it is water theft, then it has to be a pretty widespread problem because it is occurring over such a variety of locations, so my own opinion is there must be other causes as well," she said.

Shanks said people are stealing water but, "We don’t have any reason to believe it is a widespread or rampant problem."

The city’s public works committee is scheduled to meet on the issue next week.