05/24/2013 09:59 EDT | Updated 07/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Boil water advisory affecting 1.3 million people in Montreal lifted

MONTREAL - A huge boil-water advisory affecting 1.3 million people in Montreal, described by local officials as unprecedented in the recorded history of the city, was lifted late Thursday.

City officials ended the two-day-old advisory at 10:15 p.m., after tests concluded the water quality was fine.

Mayor Michael Applebaum said the warning had been issued as a precaution after an abnormal drop in levels inside a filtration plant under renovation.

“You can drink the water,” Applebaum told a news conference.

“If you open your tap and see it’s a little bit brown, just let the tap run for a bit.”

Applebaum said the city is now trying to determine what happened to cause the water volume to drop at the Atwater plant, the second-biggest in the country.

The mayor was making his first public appearance in days. He had planned to take the week off while mourning the death of his brother following a lengthy illness. Applebaum thanked the media and public for respecting his family’s privacy.

Officials had feared the water might be contaminated by sediments that trickled into the system. They said the tests confirmed Thursday that it was free of e-Coli and other serious bacteria.

Locals had been venting their frustration for two days. Many found relief in dark humour about the state of affairs in their scandal-plagued city.

One lengthy La Presse newspaper column bitterly decried the quality of governance in the city, before concluding with a joke: at least the mayor doesn't smoke crack.

The advisory, which followed repeated subway disruptions and reports of corruption in the city, resulted in a flurry of comments on Twitter. Many struck a humorous note: “Even the water is corrupt in Montreal,” tweeted a number of people, including Marcel Carrier.

There were also jokes that drew parallels between brown envelopes, like the kind being described at the Charbonneau inquiry, and the brown water.

The incident started at the west-end Atwater station. It was shut down around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday after levels dropped, causing sediments to enter the supply.

City officials had said from the start that the advisory was a preventive measure. They said Montrealers were able to drink the water after it had been boiled for a minute.

“We have no indication that any citizens were affected by drinking the water that circulated,” said Christian Dubois, the municipal public-safety director, earlier Thursday.

“But we're not taking any risks.”

The advisory resulted in a surge in demand for bottled water. Several Montreal grocery stores said they were running out.

One major grocery chain said the demand for bottled water underwent an astronomical increase _ by about 25 to 50 times _ since the advisory came into effect.

The company told The Canadian Press that it had sent 40 trucks to Montreal carrying a total of one million water bottles to deal with the demand.

Montreal did not wind up distributing bottled water because there was no need, according to city officials.

“There isn't a water shortage,” said city spokesperson Valerie De Gagne.

“Water-filtration plants are working at full capacity.”

The city was still preparing for the worst as of mid-day Thursday, preparing a “gameplan” in case the advisory had been extended, she said.

The impact was being felt at coffee shops, which had to turn away customers. It also prompted a more urgent call to action among advocates for the homeless.

One youth shelter, Dans la rue, recognized the potential impact on the poor.

“As soon as (the shelter's team) learned about it, they went to get large water bottles,” said group spokeswoman Dorothy Massimo.

The shelter, which serves about 150 meals per day, uses water coolers.

Massimo said the shelter had enough water to last another day.