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Province now investigating Winnipeg pipe leak, thousands told to cut water use

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A sewage saga continues in Winnipeg, as 90,000 residents are being asked to cut down on their water use while the city battles a pipe leak that has spewed over 200-million-litres of untreated sewage into the Red River.

The plea to conserve comes as city crews hurry to resolve the issue at the Fort Garry Bridge, where the installation of a temporary bypass system has caused a myriad of headaches over the last two weeks and prompted an investigation from the province.

The system was brought in to stand in for the permanent pipes that are in the process of being replaced. They direct sewage from the southwest part of Winnipeg to the South End Sewage Treatment Plant. While the bypass has technically been running since Saturday, it is not fully complete yet.

Two pumps are needed, but one of the pumps is still undergoing tests off-site.

The lone pipe is not keeping up with demand during peak hours, said Tim Shanks, director of the city’s waste and water department. So about 90,000 residents in the St. Norbert, Fort Richmond, Richmond West, Waverley West, Bridgwater, Linden Woods, Linden Ridge, Whyte Ridge, Waverley Heights and the University of Manitoba areas are being asked to take steps to reduce water use.

“If there are things that our customers can do - delay laundry day a few days, only run a full load of dishes in the dishwasher, take a shorter shower - that sort of thing,” Shanks said at a news conference on Wednesday.

“Anything you can do to reduce that water coming through your house and going down the drain will help us on the other end.”

The plan is to have the second pump up and running by the end of the week.

The intent is to run the bypass system while the city designs, constructs and commissions a permanent replacement for a pair of problematic pipes that is the root of the issue. That could take up to two years, Shanks said.

“It's a little bit more complicated than it looks at first,” Shanks said.

“Hopefully, we can all appreciate that we are working with trying to fit an engineered solution into this existing location that will be reliable in the long-term.”

Meantime, a provincial spokesperson said Manitoba Environment and Climate Change is keeping an eye on the leak. An investigation has been launched, and the department is monitoring upstream and downstream water quality to help assess environmental impacts.

“Manitoba has a strong regulatory framework in place to address water pollution, and these requirements are also incorporated into our Environment Act licensing process," the spokesperson said.

"Manitoba also taken strong action informed by work with experts and scientists, to reduce nutrient loading to Lake Winnipeg and elsewhere through legislation and regulations, land management, incentives, research and monitoring, education, and work with upstream jurisdictions.”

Problem stems from decades-old pipes: city 

The bypass system was brought in after it was discovered during a routine inspection last November that one of two pipes that run beneath the bridge had sprung a leak.

The problematic, 700 millimetre pipe was taken out of service, leaving the remaining 800 millimetre pipe to pick up the slack, so to speak. While that pipe was also found to be in poor condition, the city said it could still handle the flow across the river.

Work began on Feb. 5 on the temporary bypass system, which would allow the city to continue directing sewage while the pipes are replaced permanently. Days later, the 800 millimetre pipe failed, causing untreated sewage to spill into the river.

Crews accelerated their work to get the bypass system in place, and the appropriate provincial and federal agencies were notified of the environmental issues.

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