New Brunswick

Residents unhappy with Saint John Water's 'condescending' response to water woes

A week after Saint John Water’s commissioner announced an investigation was looking into the causes of west side water damage, some residents aren’t happy with the city's response.

Tips from Saint John Water include soaking fixtures, appliances with vinegar to deal with hard water

Lesley Belyea says she's going to have to replace all of the pipes in her home after a break. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

A week after Saint John Water's commissioner announced an investigation looking into the causes of west-side water damage, some residents say the city's response has been "condescending and insulting."

Residents on the city's west side were switched over to water drawn from the South Bay Wellfield last September. The move was part of Saint John's overhaul of water infrastructure. What officials weren't counting on were dozens of complaints from residents after the harder water drawn from aquifers appeared to cause plumbing damage.

The city has laid out tips on its website for people dealing with the issue. It recommends running dishwashers and washing machines with vinegar, or attaching bags of vinegar to showerheads and letting it soak overnight.

For those dealing with leaks and broken pipes, the city's advice isn't being well received.

Saint John Water has put out a number of tips for residents dealing with water problems. (City of Saint John)

"I think it's condescending and insulting," said Lesley Belyea, who said she's already been using vinegar to deal with the cosmetic hassle of hard water. The bigger issue for her, is the cost of a weakened pipe that she blames on the west-side water.

"You could just hear the water and then the ceiling fell in," said Belyea, recounting when a pipe broke between her bathroom and her sister's downstairs apartment.

It will cost about $3,000 to replace her copper pipes with plastic ones.

"I'm a new homeowner. I'm not prepared for all of this stuff to go wrong and we don't have that kind of money," she said.

Leslie Belyea says as a new homeowner, she wasn't prepared for the problems the new west-side water has caused her. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Belyea isn't the only one wondering where the money will come from to pay for repairs. Sheri Sussey said she's been forced to pick up extra work shifts to cover her plumbing bills.

"I'm on my fifth leak since November," said Sussey.

She said she feels fortunate that four of the leaks happened in unfinished areas of her home, but the fifth was where her luck ran out.

"I had to rip the ceiling and a wall out of that room and it destroyed a mattress and I had to rip up all the carpet," said Sussey.

Although she's spoken with someone from the city to report the damage, Sussey said she remains stressed about the cost and uncertainty. The city's tips also recommended putting in water softeners, which it notes begin at $499.

Coun. Greg Norton tweeted on Saturday that he didn't think his constituents should have to pay the extra $65 for a plumbing permit to install a water softener.

"I will be asking that no fee be had for west-siders at this time," wrote Norton.

Sussey said she's in favour of some sort of compensation for west-side residents, but with the potential need for replacing all the pipes in her home, Sussey said a water softener isn't even on her radar.

"I've just been so worried about my pipes in the house, I hadn't really even thought about that stuff," she said.