Nanaimo residents rally to conserve water as treatment plant struggles through storm


On the weekend before Christmas, a powerful windstorm swept through Nanaimo, B.C., causing a control device within the city’s water treatment plant to malfunction during a power outage.

The effect of the December 20, 2018 storm meant that the water treatment plant could not produce its standard water output, forcing city officials to issue an emergency water use order as Christmas approached for Nanaimo’s 105,000 residents. The water was safe to drink, but was not to be used for non-essential purposes.

A backup generator at the water treatment plant had also failed when it blew a fan belt.

“The City and BC Hydro are working to get the water treatment plant up and running,” said Bill Sims, Director of Engineering and Public Works for the City of Nanaimo, in an initial notice following the storm. “Residents and businesses should refrain from using any water until we have it fully operational. The system is not running out of water, but it is important to conserve it for life safety measures such as for fire fighting,” he added.

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As the situation continued through December 21, Nanaimo officials were so concerned about urging residents to take the water alert seriously that Mayor Leonard Krog even issued a video statement pleading for conservation. A video statement from Sims soon followed to explain the woes at the water treatment plant, and how they were working hard to restore power within a timeframe that could beat the need for issuing a boil water advisory. Watch the video below.

Some water was able to flow through the plant, but not enough. Local restaurants posted signs in their windows that stated customers would not be able to order items such as soup, tea or coffee in order to help reduce water consumption.

By 3 p.m. the next day, city workers had been making progress with repairs to the water treatment plant, but still urged residents to conserve water.

Then, by 5 p.m on December 22, city officials alerted residents that the water treatment plant had finally returned to full capacity and was able to run in automatic mode. Sims said city workers were “overwhelmed by the community’s efforts and messages of support for our staff” and thanked residents for their “patience, cooperation and understanding.”

City officials said residents’ conservation efforts cut daily water consumption average by 50%.

On nearby Salt Spring Island, however, struggles persisted for longer. Downed trees damaged the community’s water infrastructure, leading to boil water advisories on two small systems that serve some 10,000 B.C. residents. One resident wrote an account for CBC News about how she lived for 10 days without power or water on the island following the brutal windstorm.


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