Pictures of water disguised as coffee are cropping up again on social media as some residents of Verner decry the continuing condition of their tap water, which is persistently coming out brown. There’s a general distrust that the concerns of local residents are not being taken seriously, with some suggesting people in Verner stop paying their water bills. Strangely, the condition is not uniform – brown water can appear in one home and two doors down, everything seems fine.
Two Verner homeowners who were willing to share their thoughts, Reg Boutin and Gilles Piquette, were both concerned about the long term effects, despite being reassured that the water is safe. They worry not just about health effects but also the impact on their appliances. They also dispute some previous statements from municipal officials that the brown colour, due to manganese in the water drawn from the Veuve River, occurs later in the season when water levels are low. The brown water is occurring now, with the water still high.
Reg Boutin says the problem comes and goes but has been persisting for the last 4 years. “The municipality basically told us that they were going to fix it and they’re going to bring water from Cache Bay. I’ve been telling him that I don’t think it’s just the water that’s got a problem, because you let it run for 5-10 minutes and then it clears up and then two days later, we’ve got brown water again, right? So, I’m thinking it’s not just the river water that’s got too much manganese… I don’t believe that at all. To me, it’s their system that can’t filter the water properly.” Boutin relates that residents have been told by OCWA (Ontario Clean Water Agency) and Peter Ming, manager of Water and Waste Water for West Nipissing, that the chemical formerly used to remove the manganese can no longer be used in the same manner. Expressing his dissatisfaction, Boutin rues, “It’s just an ongoing story.”
Gilles Piquette comments, “I wanted to fill the jugs… It looked like a pot of coffee… and tasted like Palmolive.” He adds that this past month was the first time he saw his water that bad, he didn’t know what had happened.
Boutin says he flushes his water for 2 to 10 minutes before he gets something of reasonable clarity. Piquette confirms that letting the water run does help. Boutin thinks there is sediment in the underground pipes, but flushing the pipes doesn’t seem to last. “We’ve been saying to them, the whole system is 1974, right, when they first put the system in. So, I’m thinking that we’re past our deadline of the life expectancy of this.”
There’s a proposal in the works to run a pipeline from Cache Bay to Verner, which should solve all these problems. The estimated cost was $10 million when first proposed, and so far the plan has not moved past the studies phase. In the meantime, some residents in Verner continue to contend with unsightly water and their patience is wearing thin.
Despite assurances that the town is working on it, Boutin wants to know, “How long does it take? … Does it take like somebody getting sick, like Walkerton, or what?” Even if the water is safe to drink, no one wants to wash their clothes in it. “Our washing machines are screwed now. Our toilets are screwed. They’re tarnished. And we’ve made a complaint. …Who is going to pay my washing machine when it’s done. Who’s going to pay my water tank when it’s done? Because the sediment is piling up all the time, right? And they said, ‘oh, no, no, no, it’s not that bad.’ So, the last meeting we were going to bring a glass of water to Mr. Barbeau (CAO of the Municipality of West Nipissing) and say, ‘are you willing to drink this? You keep on telling us it’s safe water. Well, how about you take some while we’re here.’”
One of Boutin’s neighbours, 8 houses up, has never had brown water. “Is it because she doesn’t use it like we use it? I don’t know, and that’s the thing to me. …We pay an agency to have clean water… If they don’t provide us clean water, why don’t we just go after them and say, ‘hey, till you clean that water up, we’re not going to pay?’”
The inconsistency in water quality puzzles Boutin. Neither CAO Barbeau nor Manager of Water & Sewer Peter Ming were available for comment, but town councillor Fern Pellerin, who represents Verner, says he has been pursuing the matter and it’s not the pipes. Pellerin also chairs the Water & Wastewater portfolio. “That’s my committee,” he responds, “I spent about 3 hours at [the Verner water treatment] plant with him [Peter Ming] and with the Aquatech guy, and he explained the manganese problem.” Pellerin went over the issue of the chemical formerly used to address the manganese, which is no longer in use.
He also explained the inconsistency of brown water. “When you run the water, if there’s more of a surge on one side, the turbulence is going to react, and that’s where you’re going to get the brown water.” Pellerin assures that all of the water coming from the plant is clean, if slightly yellow. He took a bottle of the brown water that had settled, and agitating it turned it brown again. He also said all the underground pipes in Verner are PVC, although some of the connections are likely steel. “When there’s a flow, not a big flow to a house, the sediment will lay in the pipe… When you use lots of water, the rush will stir the bottom of the pipe… which makes a lot of sense. That’s what Peter [Ming] explained to me; that’s why you’ll get a house that’s got brown water and then one is going to be clear.”