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About 1.3 million residents of Montreal were warned to boil their drinking and cooking water following an incident at a water treatment plant during a routine maintenance procedure on Wednesday, the Montreal Gazette reported.
Practically the entire population of Canada's second-largest city is affected to at least some extent and should boil the water they use. City officials stated that the warning was a precautionary measure and that results from tests for bacteria in the water are still to be received by authorities. Montreal residents are advised to boil water for at least 60 seconds before drinking it, using it for cooking, washing food products or brushing teeth. Unboiled water can safely be used for washing clothes and for bathing, officials noted.
Atwater plant, the treatment facility where the mishap took place, is said to be in the middle of a renovation project that has been going on for almost four years now. The facility is nearly a century old and is one of the biggest water filtration plants in North America. While upgrading the infrastructure, workers have to lower water levels in the main basin to carry out the repair work. The reservoir supplying drinking water to a large part of the city is approximately 15 meters square and more than 10 meters deep and holds water taken from the St. Lawrence River that has already been treated with chlorine and filtered.
Chantal Morissette, head of Montreal's water supply department, explained that the reason for the problem was still not known but during maintenance work the water level at the main basin dropped at least ten meters and it nearly emptied. Low water levels caused the sediment at the bottom of the basin to stir up and it is possible that particles of sediment could have gone through the system and reached consumers through the distribution system. Reports of murky water have already been received, the Montreal Gazette said.
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Verdun and Sud-Ouest boroughs, the areas where water is supplied first, were also the first to report problems. Residents said that cloudy or brownish water was flowing from taps. Water in the reservoir was also cloudy, reports noted. Shortly after, city officials found out that murky water had reached pipes leading to the city's other main water filtration centre, the Charles J. Des Baillets plant. Together, the plants take water directly to several boroughs and to six reservoirs high up on Mount Royal, from where it reaches the vast majority of homes, offices and public institutions in the city.
The largest boil-water advisory in the history of Montreal caused schools to shut down water fountains and cafÈs and restaurants to boil huge amounts of water to serve their customers. The advisory was issued for a period of 24 hours on Wednesday but city officials stated that they would further inform the public when the situation has returned to normal.
If tests reveal that bacteria were present in the water, some of the pipes would be flushed out until the water has cleared up, commented Montreal fire department division chief Gordon Routley.