Winnipeg's brown water problem discussed at city hall

Winnipeg's brown water problem was under review at city hall on Tuesday, with officials admitting that the issue is widespread.

Councillors hear from head of water and waste department about pervasive water problems

Brown water regularly comes out of the tap at Bob Borsa's brand new home in Transcona, one of many residents dealing with the issue. (CBC)

Winnipeg's brown water problem was on tap at city hall on Tuesday, with officials admitting that the issue is widespread.

On Tuesday morning, city councillors heard from the head of the water and waste department about why discoloured water is coming out of so many Winnipeggers' taps.

Complaints to the city about brown water have doubled this summer compared to last year but so far, the city has been unable to solve the problem, despite spending thousands of dollars last year to hire an outside consultant.

Got brown water woes?

Do you have brown water in your home or business? We want to hear from you.

Email us at or if you're on Twitter, send us a tweet with the hashtag #wpgbrownwater.

One local expert has said the brown water problem is the worst it has ever been in the city, with residents from all areas of the city having to deal with it.

Diane Sacher, director of the city's water and waste department, told councillors on Tuesday that one per cent of households have called 311 to report discoloured water this summer. That number translates to roughly 3,000 calls, she said.

The problem affects many parts of the city, including newer areas, she added.

Manitoba Health has tested the water and determined it's safe, said Sacher, describing the discolouration as a mostly esthetic issue.

Still, city officials do not recommend drinking the brown water, cooking or washing clothes with it.

Sacher said the department's discoloured water strategy includes cleaning out 20 per cent of the city's water mains this year, testing the water, and mapping reports of brown water.

As to what's causing the brown water, officials say their best guess so far is lake sediment in water pipes that has been stirred up by heavy summer use.

St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal, who chairs the public works committee, said he has heard several reasons why brown water is plaguing residents but he still has questions.

"Because of very hot weather, because of people watering their lawns, because of the construction season, but it appears to be accelerated this season and we want to know why," he said.

Dirty laundry claims denied

Vandal said anyone whose laundry has been stained by brown water should file an expense claim with the city.

"Our claims department will look at that and if everything is legitimate, then they will get reimbursed. But you have to make a claim with the City of Winnipeg through 311," he said.

However, a city spokesperson told CBC News that of the 52 claims filed to the city this year regarding soiled laundry from brown water, all of them were denied.

'Everybody is very concerned'

In the month of August, the city's 311 line fielded upwards of 1,300 calls about brown water.

"The city is very concerned about it. Everybody is very concerned about it, and we want to know, we want to make sure, we want to understand what we are doing about it to address the problem," said Vandal.

One resident, Kathleen Olson, told CBC News she's fed up with her tap water turning rusty brown on and off over the past two summers.

"If I wanted to eat rust, I'd go lick the bumper of a car," she said.

Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck said she has received 1,800 complaints about brown water in her ward alone.

Mynarski Coun. Ross Eadie, who is visually impaired, said he actually drank brown water by mistake on one occasion.

"I have to say I did get caught making coffee with brown water one time, and it did taste different," Eadie said with a chuckle.

"When you're blind, you can't see it coming out of the faucet, right?"