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Water problem under investigation

This notice was taped to an entrance door at Jack Garland Airport.

This notice was taped to an entrance door at Jack Garland Airport.

Computer or electronics problems may have caused the drop in pressure which led to a drinking water advisory being issued today by Medical Officer of Health Dr. Catherine Whiting.

The advisory affects about 500 residents in the Airport Road-Carmichael Drive-Littledown Lane area, as well as Jack Garland Airport and businesses on the site, Canadore College’s aviation campus and the above-ground portion of CFB North Bay; the underground facility has its own water reservoir, said alternate public affairs officer Capt. Derrick Vignola.

Risk has been contained
Residents on the municipal system have been advised not to drink tap water or use it for personal hygiene.

It’s the first time a drinking water advisory has been in effect since April 12, 2001, when Whiting issued a boil-water advisory following turbidity spikes in Trout Lake.

That advisory lasted 12 days, but Whiting expects this one to be lifted within 72 hours, if laboratory readings show the water is problem-free once the system has been flushed.

“The risk has been contained and the advisory will keep everyone safe until it’s lifted,” Whiting said during a news conference earlier this afternoon.”

Back to normal
City engineer John Simmonds said the actual cause of the problem is still under investigation.

“All we do know is we lost electronic communications with our reservoir filling pumps up on the hill from the CFB area, and because of that we had a lack of water in the distribution system up on the hill,” Simmonds said at the news conference.

“We’ve got switched to what’s called a manual mode and we are filling up the reservoir currently and we’ll be flushing the entire system over the next 12 hours and then everything will be back to normal.”

Communications problem
He added the pressure problem had nothing to do with “old systems or deteriorating infrastructure.”

“We actually are upgrading the electronic systems and we suspect it’s linked in with the upgrade,” Simmonds said.

While he believes the glitch falls “largely on the computer side,” Simmonds said it could have also been a communications problem, “for instance, on the telephone line.”

Simmonds added the city has failsafe mechanisms within its water system.

"We just don’t understand why they didn’t kick-in in this case," Simmonds said.

Water pressure was restored by mid afternoon Wednesday.

Stir everything up
Whiting said the drinking water advisory had been issued in case contamination had gotten into the system before the pressure dropped.

“And in order to respond to it, it’s not going to be your typical maintenance flushing program, it’s going to be a super-flushing and the pressure is going to stir everything up in the distribution system,” Whiting said.

“So whatever was drawn in, if there was stuff drawn in, will then be flowing out. So it was better to say ‘just don’t drink the water or use it for personal use, but you could use it for other things.’”

A drinking water inspector from the Ontario Environment ministry is also involved in the investigation, as are officials from the Ontario Clean Water Agency, which operates North Bay’s system.