Workers to stay 'bunkered in' at water treatment plant in Brandon, Man., to ensure service during pandemic

Nine workers are staying on-site at the City of Brandon's water treatment facility indefinitely, to ensure the city's water supply keeps flowing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the city announced Thursday.

City of Brandon Mayor Rick Chrest assures it's a precautionary move, there's no threat to the water supply

Nine workers are sequestered inside the water treatment plant in Brandon, Man., to safeguard the city’s water supply during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Nine workers will stay indefinitely at the City of Brandon's water treatment facility, to ensure the city's water supply keeps flowing during the COVID-19 pandemic, the city announced Thursday.

Mayor Rick Chrest said the move is simply a precaution that's part of the city's pandemic preparedness plan, because operating the water treatment plant is an essential service, and the city wanted to reduce the risk of the operators getting ill.

"This isn't a panic move on our part, and our community ought to not feel panicked about this," Chrest told CBC News on Thursday.

"There's no threat to the water supply at all," he said, citing that the chlorine put into the water would kill any trace of the virus, let alone any other pathogens.

The water treatment plant workers are represented by Branch 69 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Branch president Val Bell told CBC News the city reached out to them asking for volunteers and, given the "exceptional circumstance," the two sides came to an agreement after negotiating a letter of understanding.

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"My members are very committed to providing safe water for the citizens of Brandon, and we're always willing to work with management — try unique ways to do different things," said Bell.

The workers staying on-site will earn extra compensation, Bell said, and if any issues arise the union will contact city management.

Trailers have been brought in to provide accommodations to the workers, and Chrest says arrangements were made to ensure the workers are supplied with things they need, such as groceries and meals.

There's no end date in sight for this initiative which took effect as of 6 p.m. Thursday, says Chrest.

The total number of COVID-19 cases in Manitoba climbed to 36 as of Thursday morning, and public health officials are saying the pandemic will not be over in a matter of weeks.

In the meantime, the workers will continue practising the safety protocols public health officials are preaching to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19, including social distancing and hand-washing. If someone gets sick, then the city will switch that person out with one of the 14 workers who will be operating off-site, Chrest said.

Trailers have been provided to accommodate the nine workers who volunteered to stay on-site at the water treatment plant in Brandon, Man. (Riley Laychuk/CBC)

Should the workers currently on-site need a break, then the city will find a way to switch them out as well, he said.

"We are extremely grateful to this employee group that has put the safety of our community above their own personal comfort and convenience, and their personal lives … and they're going to be bunkered in at the water treatment plant, ensuring that we can continue to provide safe potable water," Chrest said.

"There'll be lots of heroes that come out of this pandemic effort … and people like these water treatment operators, in my opinion, will be on that list of people who stepped up and did some extraordinary things to help out the greater good."

The city is willing to help out the volunteers' families with certain chores while they're away as well, the mayor added.

As the nine volunteers prepare to stay on-site for however long, a spokesperson from the City of Winnipeg says it is not looking to sequester any employees at any of its facilities at this time.

"While the city remains committed to maintaining essential services for our residents, we are also balancing the health, safety, and well-being of our employees," the spokesperson said in an email to CBC News.

"We are acting on the advice of experts and taking their instructions seriously."

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Nicholas Frew is a CBC Saskatchewan reporter based in Regina, who specializes in producing data-driven stories. Hailing from Newfoundland and Labrador, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school. He has previously worked for CBC newsrooms in Manitoba and Alberta. Before joining CBC, he interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. You can reach him at

With files from Susan Magas