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Winnipeggers in handful of neighbourhoods asked to cut down on water use

Red River Sewage Spill
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Winnipeg residents in a number of southern neighbourhoods are being asked to reduce water use as work continues to repair a problematic leak that has been spewing sewage into the river off-and-on for nearly two weeks.

The city said Tuesday that crews and contractors are still hard at work to resolve the spill at the Fort Garry Bridge.

The pipe saga began last November when during a routine inspection, a leak was discovered in one of two pipes that run under the bridge.

The pipes, built in 1970, direct sewage from the southwest part of Winnipeg to the South End Sewage Treatment Plant.

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

The city began planning for a bypass system made up of temporary new pipes to allow the city to continue directing sewage to the treatment plant. The city could then take the pipes out of service until they could be replaced permanently.

Work began to build the new bypass system on Feb. 5 but two days later, the 800 millimetre pipe failed, allowing untreated sewage to spill into the river.

Work to assemble the bypass system was accelerated, and provincial and federal agencies were notified of the environmental issue.

In the following days, the city reported the leak had been stopped a number of times, only to say mechanical issues persisted, causing sewage to spew again.

As of Friday at 12 a.m., about 191.8 million litres of untreated sewage had spilled into the Red River, but an updated total is expected Tuesday.

“Our crews and contractors have been working tirelessly to address the leak, and get a more stable bypass system in place,” said Tim Shanks, director of the city’s water and waste department.

“Under normal circumstances, the work involved in building a bypass system of this type is very challenging and would take upwards of five weeks. But we’ve been considerably expediting efforts to stop the leak.”

The city says the bypass system has now been running since Saturday, but is not fully complete yet.

Two pumps are needed to handle all of the flow in the sewer, but one of the pumps is still undergoing tests off-site to resolve issues discovered last week.

“With one of two bypass pumps now running, the amount of sewage spilled into the river has gone down considerably. While this single pump is running reliably, we need two pumps to handle the sewer capacity,” the city said in the news release.

The flow in the sewer varies during the day, the city added. During peak flow times, the single bypass pump does not always keep up and the excess flow in the sewer is spilled into the river.

Until repairs are finished, the city is asking residents and businesses in St. Norbert, Fort Richmond, Richmond West, Waverley West, Bridgwater, Linden Woods, Linden Ridge, Whyte Ridge, Waverley Heights and the University of Manitoba areas to take steps to reduce water use.

That includes using cottage rules for flushing (only flush the toilet when necessary), taking shorter showers and avoiding bathtub use, running only full loads of laundry and dishes, delaying washing vehicles and turning off the water when shaving or brushing your teeth.

“By taking these steps, it will help reduce the amount of sewage that flows into the river while repairs are ongoing,” said Shanks. “There is no risk of drinking water contamination due to this sewer issue, and our community can continue to rely on safe drinking water.”

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