New Brunswick

Saint John residents to get a taste of new water treatment system

Backlash from west side residents has prompted city officials in Saint John to be extra cautious about turning on the long-awaited water treatment system for the east, north and south ends of the city.

Saint John Water will start raising pH levels in east side water as early as next month

Starting in April, Saint John Water will gradually increase pH levels in all areas east of Reversing Falls, a process that's expected to last between 10 and 15 weeks. (istock Getty Images (DO NOT USE))

Backlash from west side residents has prompted city officials in Saint John to be extra cautious about turning on the long-awaited water treatment system for the east, north and southern parts of the city.

The new system, which is expected to begin operating this summer, will bring city water up to provincial and federal quality standards. But it will also increase pH levels and "alter the balance of alkalinity and hardness" in the water.

The introduction of a new separate water system for west side residents in September created public outrage, as hot water tanks failed and copper piping inside homes started to leak.

At public meetings, which have taken place over the past several months, angry residents sounded off on city officials and even launched a class action lawsuit.

Revisions underway 

As a result, Saint John council has authorized revisions to the way the east side water system will be brought on line.

The plan is to gradually increase pH levels in the water to where it will be when the new treatment facility near Latimer  Lake comes online in late summer.

"Given the risks and our desire to ensure we mitigate as much as possible, we've recommended to council that that step be made," said Brent McGovern, the Saint John water commissioner. 

Brent McGovern, Saint John's water commissioner, said the plan is to gradually increase pH levels in the water. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

Starting in April, months before the launch of the water treatment plant, the city will turn on a temporary sodium hydroxide treatment system to "slowly increase the pH of the water upwards" over the next 10 to 15 weeks.

"The adjustment of pH is being undertaken to reduce pipe corrosion, both for larger buried pipes and for premise plumbing," said a report prepared for city council. 

"The implementation of an early pH correction program is intended to introduce changes slowly, to allow infrastructure a period of adjustment, before the new drinking water treatment facility begins to deliver treated water to customers."

In June or July, orthophosphate will be added to the water as a further corrosion inhibitor.

The new east side water system will treat surface lake water from the Loch Lomond lakes. Meanwhile, the new west side system uses well water.

Information communicated to the public

The new treatment plant is expected to begin delivering water late this summer. The entire system will be fully completed in early 2019. 

McGovern says there will be little change to the water's taste.

But Coun. Blake Armstrong of the city's west side, is urging Saint John Water officials to prepare a communications plan about the treatment changes as soon as possible, including a mail-out of flyers to city residents.

"I find most people don't go on the internet, I'd be one of them," said Armstrong.

"If you get a mass mailing [that explains] exactly what's happening, I think that will be great."

About the Author

Connell Smith is a reporter with CBC in Saint John. He can be reached at 632-7726