Sewage leak threatens Red River: Winnipeg residents urged to conserve water

People living in southwest Winnipeg are being asked to conserve water as the city works to fix a pair of pipes spewing millions of litres of raw sewage into the Red River.

While doing a routine inspection at the end of November, city staff discovered a leak in one of two pipes that run under the river near the Fort Garry Bridge and direct sewage from the southwest part of Winnipeg to the South End Sewage Treatment Plant.

The leaky pipe, built in 1970, was taken out of service immediately, with the thought the remaining pipe would be able to handle the flow while crews worked on a bypass system, which would direct sewage to the treatment plant until the pipes could be permanently replaced. 

Crews started working on the bypass system on Feb. 5. Two days later, the remaining pipe failed. 

“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 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.”

Work to complete the bypass is being accelerated to reduce possible impacts on the environment. The city has also contacted provincial and federal agencies to inform them of the environmental issue.

The city says in a situation like this, crews typically would be able to do numerous tests with the equipment both off-site and on-site. Due to the current state, workers have had to adjust and go with the flow. 

“Our crews have had to make constant adjustments in real time, and it’s incredibly delicate work,” said Shanks.

The bypass system has been running since Feb 17., but a problem with one of the two pumps needed to handle the sewer capacity has led to a delay in the bypass being fully completed.  

Until the bypass is complete, residents living in St. Norbert, Fort Richmond, Richmond West, Waverley West, Bridgwater, Linden Woods, Linden Ridge, Whyte Ridge, Waverley Heights and areas near the University of Manitoba are asked to restrict their water use. 

Residents are encouraged to take shorter showers and avoid baths, turn off the water while shaving or brushing their teeth, delay washing cars, run only full loads of laundry and dishes and only flush the toilet when necessary. 

“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.”

The city expects the second pump to be operational by the end of the week. 

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