An early investigation into the severe fire damage at the Wheatley Water Treatment Plant estimates that it could take a full year before the southwestern Ontario facility can return to normal operations, local officials announced.
The year it could take to restore the facility is due to significant fire damage to specialized mechanical and electrical systems within the plant. Replacement equipment can have long lead times for order and delivery, local officials said in an update.
The fire occurred on September 13. It originated from the water plant’s generator, which was undergoing regular maintenance and testing, local officials said. Damage from the fire was significant enough to place the Wheatley Water Treatment Plant out of service, but nobody was injured.
Structural engineers are on site to better assess the extent of the fire damage.
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The communities of Wheatley and Tilbury in Chatham-Kent had been under a boil water advisory until October 4, but were provided access to a bottled water distribution program. Since September 28, the Municipality of Chatham-Kent has distributed a total of seven semi-trailer loads of drinking water to residents, totalling approximately 170,000 litres. The water plant serves some 8,500 residents and officials recommended one to two cases per family per day.
The Chatham-Kent Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and CK Public Health conducted several rounds of testing at the water treatment plant to gauge sufficient pressure, adequate chlorine levels, and ensure that the water was completely free of bacteriological contamination. When those conditions were met, and officials were confident in the repeatability of water testing results, the boil water advisory was lifted.
“Once we stabilize the water supply, which we are working to do now, we will be able to test the water with accurate and repeatable results,” said Tim Sunderland, PUC general manager, in a statement on September 20, just prior to lifting the boil water advisory.
The water distribution system has approximately 328 kilometres of watermains.
Local officials are still advocating for water conservation, which means avoiding lawn watering, car washing, filling of hot tubs, and all other non-essential uses of the water supply.
“We thank everyone for their patience and resilience as we navigate this difficult situation,” said Sunderland. “We look forward to continuing to move ahead with repairs to the Wheatley Water Treatment Plant.”
The Wheatley plant was constructed in 1994 and later expanded in 2004 in order to provide water to the community of Tilbury and surrounding area.
Wheatley made headlines in 2021, when a hydrogen sulphide leak led to an explosion from underneath a former commercial building.