New Brunswick

Neighbours claim Saint John's new water treatment plant ruined their wells

For over a year, Rob and Connie Crow of east Saint John have struggled to keep their failing water well from quitting altogether. Last week, they learned their neighbours, the Pineos, have the same problem. Both families blame construction at the nearby Safe Clean Drinking Water plant.

Grandview Avenue families live near plant but aren't served by the city's water system

Rob Crow, left, of Saint John removes a grit-covered water filter just 24 hours after installing it. He blames construction at the city's water treatment plant nearby for ruining his well. (Brian Chisholm, CBC)

For well over a year, Rob and Connie Crow have struggled to keep their failing water well from quitting altogether.

First the water softener stopped working. They discovered the water coming from the well carried a gritty substance that left an oily film on their hands. 

Rob shrugs when asked what it is.

"I can guarantee you it's not good for you," he said.

Frequent filter routine

To make a new water softener work, they installed a $2,000 filtration system in their Grandview Avenue home, which is within 200 metres of the city's new Safe Clean Drinking Water plant, built under a public-private partnership.

Unfortunately, the filters plug up so quickly the water pressure at the taps drops off within days.

To remain in their home, the Crows have developed a routine of rinsing or replacing filters every few days. 

Through those many months, the couple were unaware their neighbours, the Pineos, just two doors over, were fighting the same battle.

It was only last Thursday that the Crows and the Pineos began to compare notes.

The grit from Crow's well water leaves an oily film on the fingers (Brian Chisholm, CBC)

For four decades, both families enjoyed the drinking water at their Grandview Avenue homes. Today, neither family would dream of consuming the water coming from the taps. 

Both homes are equipped with expensive filtration systems and stand-up coolers for bottled drinking water.

"This started when that started" said Linda Pineo, pointing across the street to the treatment plant.

"It was like mud coming through. If you flushed the toilet the whole toilet was brown."

Don't even get water from plant

The plant was part of a $216 million water system upgrade to ensure Saint John's drinking water met new federal guidelines.

In a twist, the two homes, just a short stroll from the plant perimeter, cannot be linked into the water system, which doesn't serve their part of Grandview Avenue.

"They've cracked something in the ground would be my bet — either the dynamiting or the rock hammering," said Rob Crow. "They told me it couldn't happen up here. But sitting on my deck, you could feel the dynamite going off and you could feel the deck vibrating with the blasting they were doing."

Tanks for Saint John's water treatment plant. The operation is within 200 metres of the Crow and Pineo homes. (Brian Chisholm, CBC)

And the problem seems to be getting worse. The water flowing into Crow's filtration system is obviously discoloured. Any day now, he expects all flow from the well to stop completely.

While the two families have no doubt what caused their water problems, they're not happy with the way the city has responded to their complaints.

"It's not a place you want to have to deal with," Crow said. "They would call [and say]: 'This guy's going to call you. This guy's on vacation, he's going to call you when he gets back.' Ninety per cent of these calls do not happen."

In a recent conversation with the city, Crow said, he was assured a representative from a well-drilling company would be sent to test his system.

A spokesperson from Port City Water Partners, the private operator of the city's water treatment system, said Friday they will look into complaints from the two families.