Saint John boil order

About 45,000 homes and businesses in the shaded area of this map of Saint John are subject to a health department order to boil any water before ingesting it. (CBC)

The City of Saint John is pushing ahead with major upgrades to the drinking water system.

Members of the Safe, Clean Drinking Water Project team hosted an information session for project bidders on Tuesday, hours after most of the city was placed under a boil water order following a water main break.

Dean Price, a municipal engineer and water project manager, said approximately 140 companies were present for the session.

"We had consulting firms, designers, engineering firms, financial companies, public-private partnership (P3) specialists, a lot of very large construction companies," said Price.

"There were also small- and medium-sized construction companies, suppliers, like people who build valves, water storage tanks … So that shows a really good interest in the project."

Price said several companies will join to make a group bid for the work.

'All the big players in the international water and waste water industries were present.' - Dean Price, water project manager

"We had a lot of Canadian firms, plus we had a number of international firms as well," he said. "All the big players in the international water and waste water industries were present."

The next step is to create a list of qualifications to make sure companies can handle the job, said Price. The City of Saint John intends to hire a fairness adviser, to ensure the contract is properly awarded.

The 1870s-era pipe that broke on Tuesday near the Lakewood Heights pump station is one of the ones slated for replacement under the city's massive Safe, Clean Drinking Water Project.

The system upgrade, which recently secured nearly $115 million from the federal and provincial governments, is expected to be completed in 2018. The final cost of the work has been estimated at $220 million, though the actual cost won't be known until a bid is selected. City water rates will be raised to cover the difference.

Boil order in place until at least Friday

About 45,000 people remain affected by the boil water order for the area east of the Reversing Falls bridge. It is expected to remain in effect until at least Friday, according to city officials.

The order was issued by the Department of Health and will remain in place until two consecutive tests, taken a minimum of 24 hours apart, show that the water is safe to drink.

This is the sixth boil water order in the city so far this year; the second one in the past month.

Tuesday's break and related low water pressure forced the near closure of St. Joseph's Hospital.

The urgent care centre, operating rooms and out-patient clinics were all closed for much of the day. Only the specimen lab, urology and diagnostics remained open to the public.

All operations returned to normal by Wednesday morning, Carolyn McCormack, a spokesperson for the Horizon Health Network, said in a statement.

Officials advise that micro-organisms in the water may make people sick and are a particular concern to those with weakened immune systems.

The city and health department advise people to use bottled water, or bring water to a rolling boil and let it boil for at least one minute, then let it cool before using.

Boiled or bottled water should be used for drinking, brushing teeth, making ice, juice, coffee, tea or washing vegetables that will not be cooked.

It is safe for people to shower, bathe and wash dishes in hot, soapy water. It is also safe to use a dishwasher.