Users asked to conserve water in West Kent

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The water may be safe to drink from taps in the Wheatley and Tilbury areas, but officials are still asking people to conserve water.

The boil water advisory, in place since Sept. 13 due to the fire at the Wheatley water treatment plant, ended last week. But it will be some time before the request for water conservation ends.

Acting medical officer of Health Dr. Shanker Nesathurai and general manager of the Chatham-Kent Public Utilities Commission Tim Sunderland addressed the board of health Oct. 5. Both detailed what led to the advisory and the eventual cancellation.

Nesathurai said because the water treatment plant had to be shut down due to the fire – and is anticipated to be offline for a year or more – there was a resultant drop in water pressure, to the point there was a chance at contamination getting into the water system.

At that time, the PUC, with Nesathurai’s backing, opted for the boil water advisory.

The municipality brought in water from other systems, including the South Kent water treatment plant, and from lines to the west in Essex County, and even had water trucked in.

“Once the system reached satisfactory levels of reliability,” Nesathurai said, “we tested the water, for chlorine levels and biological contamination. We tested about 20 sites. Once we were satisfied collectively, we removed the boil water advisory.”

Sunderland concurred.

“On Sept. 13, the fire in the plant took out the plant. We then needed to ensure there was sufficient, reliable water flow to the customers. We also had to ensure we had sufficient chlorination throughout the system,” he said.

Nesathurai urges people to continue to conserve water and not wash their vehicles, water their grass or fill their hot tubs in the short term.

Sunderland added it is needed to ensure water pressure remains high.

“We had to reconfigure the water plant. We don’t have the pumping system we had before this,” he said.

The PUC is relying on the Leamington pumping station to help maintain water pressure in the Tilbury and Wheatley area.

“All the water we have is what we’re given through the donor systems. If we take care of the water, then we’ll make sure everyone has safe water,” Sunderland said.

Nesathurai said having clean tap water is something we take for granted, and it is no small feat to deliver.

“The whole idea that you can turn on water, at every tap, and it being safe to drink is really a spectacular achievement of civil infrastructure,” he said.

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