Portage residents asked to use less water

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Allyson Beauregard

PORTAGE-DU-FORT – About fifteen residents attended a meeting, October 24, to discuss the municipality’s ongoing water troubles and to
prepare residents for the winter.
After the Quebec government required the town to build a new $3 million, filtered water plant, the old water plant was to be

Allyson Beauregard

PORTAGE-DU-FORT – About fifteen residents attended a meeting, October 24, to discuss the municipality’s ongoing water troubles and to
prepare residents for the winter.
After the Quebec government required the town to build a new $3 million, filtered water plant, the old water plant was to be
used only as a back-up. However, the new plant has a limit on the amount of water it produces daily – an amount that is set by the government based on the area’s population – which became a problem when last winter’s extreme cold froze many residents’ pipes.
“We started using the new plant about this time last year, but once it
got cold, people started running their taps to
prevent their pipes from freezing. We had to switch to the old plant because the new one couldn’t keep up with the demand,” said Bob Simpson, Portage councillor, who warned the same problem could occur again this winter if caution isn’t taken.
“We can’t switch over easily … you can’t just flip a switch. If people start
running their taps and we have to go back to the old plant, there’s no way to go back and forth. We’d basically be on the old plant until spring. We’re warning residents that if they do run their taps, to run them a
little bit on only the coldest days,” he explained.
Although the town has asked residents to restrict their water usage on several occasions, according to Simpson, usage has not decreased. “Last winter, people were using the same amount of water at 3 am as they were at 3 pm. That tells us we either have leaks or residents are running their taps … we know a number of people were running them full force,” he said.
However, Simpson doesn’t deny there may be leaks in the pipe system. “There may be a few, but we don’t think there are any major ones. Our pipes are about 70 years old, but we don’t have $1 million to change them. We are going to try and replace a few next year on the streets that had the most trouble, but the problem is you have to do the work, pay the bills, and then get money back from the government through the gas tax credit,” he added.
Boil water advisory
After the winter, problems with power surges and the new plant’s computer system prevented the municipality from switching back to the new system right away, so the old plant was used up until about two months ago. The municipality has consequently been under a boil water advisory since August after a failed water test was returned. “The old plant, where the failed
sample was taken, basically takes water from the Ottawa River, and mixes it with chlorine; it no longer meets certain regulations,” explained Simpson, who said the municipality is expecting a clear sample any day. 
“The last sample was taken from the new plant, which should come back perfect, but it takes a while to get the results, so the boil advisory must remain until then,” he added.
The municipality also warned residents that although they covered the expenses of thawing pipes between the municipal shut-offs and homes last year, they will not continue. “Last year we steamed the pipes at the town’s expense, which we won’t be doing this year. It cost us about $20,000,” said Simpson who explained residents can prevent freezes by ensuring pipes are at a proper depth, insulating them, or running electrical wires around them. 
Concerns are heightened since there are no known contractors in the area that are able to thaw pipes. “The person we used last year isn’t licensed to work in Quebec,” said Simpson, who told the Journal that council is searching for a contractor who would be able to thaw pipes should they freeze again this year.
Water meters lingering
If rural municipalities are unable to control their water usage, the provincial government could require water meters be installed. “Rural Quebec is the largest consumer of water in Canada. The government is threatening to put water meters on by 2017
if we don’t get things
in order,” concluded Simpson.