Winnipeg faces $5.64M tab to repair water-treatment plant problems

The City of Winnipeg expects to spend another $5.64 million in the coming years to address deficiencies at its eight-year-old water-treatment plant and may decommission a chlorine-production facility originally built to eliminate the prospect of vehicle collisions with trains carrying the highly volatile chemical.

Repair bill millions less than worst-case scenario, provided city continues to ship in chlorine compound

Winnipeg's water-treatment plant requires another $5.64 million in repairs, a new report says. (City of Winnipeg)

The repair tab for Winnipeg's water-treatment plant will be millions less than a worst-case-scenario envisioned by engineers — provided the city dispenses with a chemical-production facility at the R.M. of Springfield site.

Winnipeg's water and waste department says in a new report it has spent $615,000 to date to address deficiencies at its eight-year-old plant, which was completed just east of the Red River Floodway at a cost of $300-million.

The report states it will cost $5.64 million to address the remaining problems. 

Council water and waste chair Brian Mayes (St. Vital) said this comes as something of a relief, since engineers originally estimated the repairs could be much higher before the city filed a lawsuit in an effort to recover some of the costs.

"It's better than the potential for twenty or $30 million, which was the number being used in the lawsuit. Our staff has taken a look at what we can do to mitigate our losses," Mayes said.

One of those mitigation measures involves the potential decommissioning of a failed sodium hypochlorite-production facility that was originally built on site. The city may close down this component of the plant, rather than fix it. 

The city built a facility to produce the bleach-like compound on site to eliminate the risk of vehicle collisions with trains carrying highly volatile pure chlorine very close to the city. 

"When the plant was built there was some argument to do it on site for security reasons, for public safety reasons. I don't know what the staff now view as the safety or security issues, if they're confident that we can go forward with bringing it from outside," Mayes said.

"Obviously, there are some questions the public's going to have."

Winnipeg's water and waste department said there is no risk involved in transporting sodium hypochlorite, which is nowhere near as volatile as pure chlorine.

"Since our equipment for generating sodium hypochlorite on site has failed, we have simply purchased sodium hypochlorite and had it trucked into the water treatment plant to treat the water," Winnipeg spokesperson Michelle Finley said in a statement.

"We do not have any safety concerns with this approach. Both methods that have been used do not handle [or] involve pure chlorine. As stated in the report, the water and waste department is working to complete a business case to determine the optimum solution – be it fixing the equipment or continue hauling sodium hypochlorite."

The construction of the treatment plant upgraded Winnipeg's water quality through a series of additional purification measures, including ultraviolet radiation and biologically active carbon filtration, that removes algae, micro-organisms and potential pathogens such as cryptosporidium.

Since it opened in 2009, the plant has suffered from a series of problems, none of which affect water quality. They include the failure of a chlorine-production facility built on site; leaky roofs on its main building, chemical-storage building and the chlorine facility; corroded concrete storage tanks; the failure of standby generators and performance issues with its dewatering cells.

Winnipeg's $300-million water-treatment plant was completed in 2009. (City of Winnipeg)

In 2015, the city attempted to recover funds for the repairs by filing a lawsuit against consulting firm AECOM, construction company PCL and eight other firms.

This court action evaporated in 2017, when the city disclosed it took too long to file a statement of claim. Chief administrative officer Doug McNeil said this deprived taxpayers of a chance to recover somewhere between $6 million and $20 million.

In the wake of the lawsuit's failure, the city fired a veteran lawyer, who has since sued the city for wrongful dismissal. The city has also conducted a legal review which Coun. Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert) has derided as insufficient in depth or detail.

A separate report authored by water and waste engineering manager Geoff Patton tallies up the money spent to date on repairs for the facility and also estimates the future repairs.

As of Jan. 25, the city spent $615,000 to address some of the deficiencies, Patton states in the report, which will come before council's water and waste committee next week.

The report states the city may be forced to spend up to $5.35 million to fix the leaky roof on the main building, $265,000 to fix concrete tanks and also devote $21,000 to the decommissioning of the chlorine-production facility, if the city decides it makes financial sense to purchase chlorine.


Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Reporter Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.