NEWS

Winnipeggers’ confidence shaken in city water supply

01/28/2015 09:18 EST | Updated 03/30/2015 05:59 EDT
Winnipeg's boil water advisory will remain in effect at least until Thursday, further testing the public’s faith in its municipal water supply.

A new set of samples of the city's drinking water tested negative for E Coli Wednesday. The city is confident the initial tests that led to the scare, which showed E. Coli in a few suspect samples, were false positive.

But because Health Canada requires two sets of negative samples 24 hours apart to rescind a boil water advisory, the city has decided to uphold the advisory until new results are in.

In the meantime, many in Winnipeg have been left to reflect on what the water scare means about the quality and monitoring of the city’s water.

Sean Woodley said his impression of Winnipeg's tap water has changed in light of the boil water-advisory.

"The fact that we don't have a safe water supply, steady safe water supply, frankly scares the hell out of me," said Woodley

Despite the fact that city officials have blamed the issue on a sampling error, and not the newly renovated multimillion dollar water treatment facility, Woodley said his faith in the city has taken a hit.

"You should be able to drink city water anytime," said Woodley.

Renee Struthers said initially she was concerned about the advisory.

"I was a little bit worried when I heard about it because I had been drinking tap water all day, but we've been boiling water and using it for washing food." 

Patrick Serda was working at a restaurant in downtown Winnipeg Tuesday night when the advisory was issued.

"It affected us a lot, took all the ice out, no cocktails or no tap water for anyone," said Serda. "We started serving bottled water. [People were] shocked by the change."

Geoff Patton, the city’s acting director of water and waste, said the collective trust in Winnipeg’s water quality is on shaky ground.

"Confidence in the water supply is extremely important," said Patton. "It's extremely fragile."

City officials said Wednesday morning that retests have been fast-tracked and results will be delivered to the public as soon as possible.

"Giving them the most accurate and quick info is the best way to instill confidence in the system," said Patton.

2013 advisory

While this is the first time there has ever been a Winnipeg-wide boil water-advisory, areas in southwest Winnipeg were put under an advisory in 2013 for a short time.

That advisory took the city almost six hours to put in place from the time it first received the results. In contrast with 2013, this time around the city has been much quicker to issues updates and release information to the public.

Investigation needed, says scientist

But Eva Pip, a water quality professor at the University of Winnipeg, said current resampling isn’t enough to restore the public’s confidence in the municipal water supply. To do that, Pip said an investigation is needed to get to the bottom of what caused the apparent false positive tests in the first place.

"If we're getting false positives, can we not be getting false negatives as well?" asked Pip.

Pip said the number of false positives—six of 39 city samples—poses a significant concern.

“That’s really significant. Not just one or even two, but six!”

Patton wouldn't speculate on how the samples might have been compromised. He said the situation is rare and that there are a number of variables at play that could have led to the kinds of samples at the heart of Winnipeg’s current water controversy.

"This is just completely unusual and the information doesn't add up,” said Patton.

Not all Winnipeggers are preoccupied with questions of trust in the city's water. Some are trying to find humour in it all.

"When in doubt, you drink beer," said David Rudge with Half Pints Brewery. "Really, many Irish saints have hung their hat on the fact they could turn some pretty nasty water into fantastically good beer for people, and the beer is pure by the time it comes out of the boiling process and the brewing process. The beer is pure and ready to go."

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