Winnipeg water report cards reveal problems

The province of Manitoba audits Winnipeg’s water once a year. Most of the grades are an impressive 100 percent - with some important exceptions.

A localized boil water-advisory was issued for parts of Winnipeg in 2013

Winnipeg remains under a boil water-advisory Wednesday night.

The province of Manitoba audits Winnipeg’s water once a year. Most of the grades are an impressive 100 per cent — with some important exceptions.

Winnipeggers will remember the localized boil water advisory of 2013. It was called after two samples in St. Vital tested positive for E. Coli on Oct. 8, 2013. The advisory was rescinded the next day after subsequent tests came out negative.

The boil water advisory was just one of the incidents that resulted in a 99.6 per cent score for bacterial compliance in 2013. There were 18 other water samples that came back positive for bacteria out of 2,332 tests. Subsequent tests came out negative and no public advisories were issued since the bacteria were not E. Coli.

High levels of coliform bacteria, a bacteria found in feces, were found at these sampling sites:

  • Edison Avenue and Rothesay Street on March 4, 2013
  • Pembina Highway  and Thatcher Drive on June 3, 2013​
  • Kildare Avenue and Redonda Street, June 24, 2013
  • Wall Street and Ellice Avenue July 2, 2013
  • Beresford Avenue and Lilac Street Nov. 26, 2013

The Beresford Avenue incident is believed to be have been caused by a contractor tying into the water system.

All the positive tests above triggered re-tests which came out negative.

But On July 29, 2013, positive tests were missed for days. Low amounts of coliform were found at Keewatin Street and Inkster Avenue and on Dakota Street and Warde Avnue, but nothing was done due to a “mis-communication” between the lab and the city.

When bacteria is found, the city is supposed to retest immediately. The error wasn’t discovered until the next round of samples was taken the following week.

Chlorine levels are monitored, too. When the disinfectant levels are too low, bacteria can grow.  Insufficient chlorine was detected on Saskatchewan Avenue on Nov. 12, 2013. City officials said levels dropped as the result of closed valves.

The city scored better on its 2012 and 2010 report cards with 100 per cent compliance for the bacterial water quality standard. In 2011, it detected eight instances of high coliform, which left it with a 99.6 per cent compliance rate.

Despite the incidents between 2010 and 2013, the city was always in compliance with its drinking water operating licence.

2013 Miscommunication

The morning after the 2013 boil water-advisory was issued, a Health Canada official emailed the manager of Manitoba's Office of Drinking Water asking why it was not noted in Health Canada's Public Health Intelligence network(CNPHI)

The CNPHI website is used to share information by public health officials across the country.

"Just checking on this advisory noted on CBC but not entered on CNPHI,' the Health Canada analyst wrote. "This means no notifications went out internally, so unfortunately some stakeholders may have potentially found out about this via the media first."

The province advised Health Canada it posted the boil water advisory to CNPHI minutes after receiving the email, adding "the boil water advisory was made late yesterday and all staff were gone at that time."


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