Dealing with Discolored Water

Occasionally, our office receives calls from residents with questions about “brown water”.   Implementing the recommendations of the 2013 discoloured water investigation has been a priority for the City’s Water and Waste Department.  As a result, there has been a substantial reduction in overall reports of discoloured water since 2013.

As the City continues to use Ferric Chloride as a coagulant, manganese levels in the system can still generate discoloured water events.  This means that even though major improvements have been made, work is continuing on completion of the long term solution.

Discoloured water can also result from nearby roadwork, building construction, firefighting, emergency water main breaks, or routine operations such as water main cleaning.  These types of activities can cause sediment in the water pipes to loosen and be released into the water.

The City has a Frequently Asked Questions page which includes charts of customer calls and updates at   Some of the key points include:

How is the new, lower manganese product working?  Changing to Ferric Chloride that contained lower amounts of manganese was one of several recommendations from the report that the City has implemented, and has contributed to a reduction in calls.  However, the low manganese Ferric Chloride still contains manganese, and therefore further changes are needed.

Has the watermain cleaning city-wide been completed, and did it achieve the desired goals? Have we gone back to check that sediment levels have remained relatively low since the cleaning?  The accelerated water main cleaning program did indeed complete a full round of cleaning of the entire City, which started in 2014 and finished in 2016.  The City is maintaining the flushing schedule going forward, and in summer, 2017 intends to clean 1/3 of the system.  The report recommendation was to increase the frequency of water main flushing in order to limit the possibility of accumulation of manganese in the system.  Once the coagulant is changed at the water treatment plant, the City will assess future schedules.

Have tests with the micro plant been completed?  Are there going to be any larger upgrades to the treatment plant to further lower manganese (and other potential minerals)?  The testing of a new coagulant is currently underway.  The pilot program needs to test the proposed coagulant during seasonal changes in water quality (cold weather, cold to warm transition, warm weather, and warm to cold transition) to evaluate performance and suitability.  This testing began last winter and should be complete by spring, 2018.  After testing is done, the City will be able to begin transition to a new coagulant.  Once the City stops  using Ferric Chloride, we expect to see a significant reduction in discoloured water events.


What Should I Do if I Have Discolored Water?

If your water is discolored, the City recommends that you not use discoloured water for any purposes that require clean water, i.e. drinking, preparing food and beverages, or laundry –  discoloured water does not taste, smell or look pleasant, and it can stain clothes. Health officials do not recommend drinking discoloured water but if small amounts are consumed accidentally, no harm is expected.

If you are experiencing discoloured water, please take these steps:

Check these pages on the City’s website:

  1. Check water main activity, which lists all water mains from the past seven days that are shut off or partially shut off due to repair work.
  2. Check water main cleaning to see if cleaning activity has caused the discoloured water.

Check if discoloured water has passed:

  • Turn on a cold water tap and let the water run for a few minutes. It is best to use a bathtub tap as there is no screen to trap any sediment.
  • Catch some water in a light-coloured cup. If the water isn’t clear, turn off the tap, wait 30 minutes and try again. Discoloured water usually doesn’t last long.

Report the problem to the City:

  • If your water still isn’t clear after two to three hours, phone 311 or E-Mail to report the problem.

For additional information, visit these pages on the City’s website:




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