Dailies - Montreal Boil Water Advisory 2013
BWA for most of Montreal
Some 1.3 million people are under precautionary boil water advisory after routine maintenance work at the Atwater treatment plant triggered the largest boil water advisory in Montreal's, if not Canada's history. Officials with the City of Montreal's water department say the 24-hour boil water advisory is just a precautionary measure and are expecting test results Thursday morning. Problems first turned up in Verdun and the South-West boroughs, which are closest to the plant and where taps started emitting brown water. According to the Ottawa Citizen, the city sent out a boil-water advisory for those areas at 9:30 a.m. Then the city realized the tainted water had made it to pipes connecting it to the city's other main water filtration facility, the Charles J. Des Baillets plant. Together, the plants pump water directly to some areas of the city and to six reservoirs high up on Mount Royal, from where they are distributed to almost every section of the city. Affected municipalities and districts include: Verdun, Point St-Charles, St-Henri, Cote-St-Paul, Ville-Emard, Notre-Dame-de-Grace, Westmount, Cote-St-Luc, Hampstead, Town of Mount Royal, Anjou, Montreal East and the off-island town of Charlemagne. Oddly enough, as we were researching this story on Wednesday morning, we noticed that the City of Montreal's website was also down.
Quebec mum on Montreal BWA
No mention of Montreal's city-wide boil water advisory on the Quebec Ministry of Environment listing of water avisories. According to the province's Regulation respecting the quality of drinking water, precautionary water advisories related to water system maintenance or repairs are not reported on the government site. As of Thursday morning, the results of sample testings have not been published and will now only be released later on in the day, leaving Montrealers in the dark as to the 'precautionary' nature of this advisory for another day.
Why Quebec would publish a comprehensive list of BWAs in municipal and non-municipal small drinking water systems across the province but not report an advisory that affects 1.3 million people in its biggest municipality is at best questionable. Unfortunatley, Quebec is not the only province with this policy.
Health Agency taking every precaution
According to Marie-Josee Thibert of the Agence de la sante et des services sociaux de Montreal (Health and Social Services Montreal), the agency received 1,500 calls Wednesday, 445 of these were concerning the water situation in Montreal and 14 were referred to doctors or hospitals because of abdominal pains or nausea.
"No one is taking any chances", says Thibert. " While the city is responsible for communicating with the population, our role is to communicate with health authorities and hospitals. We are in constant contact with city officials but our experts can only repeat what has already been said until water test results are received and analysed."
Test results are now expected some time Thursday night.
"Should the test results be positive, our experts will immediately be in contact with the media with more
information," said Thibert.
Concerned Montrealers can call 811 where nurses will answer their questions or direct them to a resource that will help.
MONTREAL BWA LIFTED - L'AVIS EST LEVÉ
Late Thursday night Mayor Michael Applebaum confirmed that the Boil water advisory in effect since Wednesday in Montreal had been lifted. Municipal officials expect to have more information sometime next week as to what exactly went wrong at the Atwater filtration plant.
What businesses and services have to say
"We bought lots of bottled water
and gave that to our clients free." - Van, Chabad of NDG
"We sold lots of bottled water. It was good for business". - Manager, Schwartz's Deli
"Oh yes we sold 'vraiment beaucoup' lots of bottled water, we were sold out the first day, but we ordered more for the next day and had enough. Most people feel safer buying bottled water." - Sylvie, Depanneur Laurion, Sain-Henri
"My first thought was that this was really bad timing. Hydro Quebec sends out cut-off notices to customers in arrears at this time of year. Our clients don't have the means to buy bottled water and without power they couldn't even boil it. Many have babies or are elderly. We had no bottled water but boiled some to give out cups of water." - Kim Martin, NDG Food Bank
A lot of people did not know there was a boil water advisory. We get bottled water donations from Regitan Distribution two or there times a year but we did not receive our regular shipment until this week." - Michelle Chappaz,Share the Warmth Food Bank
"People stayed at home, they panicked a bit because they
know restaurants don't usually supply bottled water and didn't want to
risk their health. I estimate that we did 15% less business on day 1; and 35% less business on Days 2 and 3. I'm relieved it's over." - George Pentsos, Souvlaki George
'We bought bottled water to wash fruit and veggies. People were nervous so we left the bottled water
on the counter just to put them at ease.clients were very skeptical about the safety
of the water. We gave out bottled water to anyone who
asked." - Alison Henstridge, Griffintown Cafe
"We had no problems. We are used to area-specific water advisories and our protocol worked well". - Micheal Cohen, English School Board of Montreal
"After an initital debiefing, we are satisfied with the quality of our emegency communications and sevices. There is always room for improvement, but overall our Code Orange Protocol went smoothly". - Marie-Josée Thibert, Santé et Services Sociaux Montréal
OpEd - A wake-up call
In a way, the BWA in Montreal was a dry run. Issued as a precaution, it was resolved within a few days and did not lead to further emergencies. Things could have gone really wrong as they did not last year in Prince Albert, SK.
In early February 2012, Prince Albert and its surrounding areas were issued a precautionary boil water advisory after a faulty valve caused untreated water to enter the system. Just a precaution, as they say, yet as water in the reservoir reached dangerously low levels, more untreated water had to be introduced to avoid system-wide depressurization; which meant that the whole system had then to be flushed and disinfected. When the precautionary advisory was finally lifted, it had lasted six whole weeks.
It goes without saying that Prince Albert, with a metro population of some 42,600, is not in the same league as Montreal. Just imagine the chaos if 1.3 million people were kept under BWA for over a month in a major metropolis.
It is worrisome that eight days later there are still no answers as to what happened. Was it human error? Then, it could easily happen again and with far more dire consequences. While Montreal officials, hospitals, social sevices and school boards all congratulate themselves on the quality of their emergency protocols, the questions remains as to how they would fare under greater stress.
The blame game in Montreal
The scenario so far, as told to WaterToday by Montreal City spokesperson, Jacques-Alain Lavallee. Montreal's Atwater treatment plant is undergoing renovations while still in operation. It feeds most of city's water system with Montreal's other large treatment plant, Charles J. Des Baillets. On May 22, the reservoir alarm was turned off at the Atwater Treatment Plant to install a new lining that required the draining of the reservoir. Divers could be used for this operation, but it had been done this way succesfully 9 times(last week it was 7 times) before. This time, a pump, manufactured by Worthington Inglis Dominion Engineering, failed. It should have shut off when the water was too low for it to function normally but it kept pumping, sucking up the sediment at the bottom of the reservoir, pushing it through most of the city's system. More to come.
The blame game in Montreal - Part 2
An unnamed source at a pump company that supplies the City of Montreal says it is very unlikely that a pump caused the City's boil water advisory. There are 12 pumps in the city's system; 6 Worthington, 4 DeLaval and 2 Dominion Engineering and it would be hard
for the city to tell which pump is pumping
at any given time. The Dominion Engineering pump, which according to the city was at the root of the problem, was either sold to the city circa 1931 or 1932
or in the mid 50s. Dominion Engineeering itself, was sold in the mid-fifties.
The pumps' capacity is 25 million imperial gallons per minute. There is no alarm or shut-off system on the pumps themselves; the alarms are on the control systems around the pumps.
Pumps are strictly distribution systems, they take whatever they are fed and pump it
out, when the water gets too low and contains a lot of sediment it is fed throughout the system. "I have no idea why the water was so low", he says, but a pump is not supposed to turn off automatically. The BWA was either caused by control failure or human error.