Bill Sims, city director of public works and engineering, is asking the public to restrict water use to an absolute minimum as the city attempts to get the South Fork Water Treatment Plant back in operation following power failures and control system malfunctions caused by Thursday’s wind storm. CHRIS BUSH/ The News Bulletin

UPDATE: Water treatment plant has power, but city still asking for conservation

South Fork Water Treatment Plant experienced control system malfunction

City water is safe to drink, but residents are being asked to cut on all water water use, even baths and showers to prevent supplies from running short due to a control system malfunction at Nanaimo’s South Fork Water Treatment Plant.

The plant, which supplies most of Nanaimo’s potable water, lost electrical power when trees fell on power lines during Thursday’s storm. Power has been restored, but the plant has not come back to full operating capacity.

“The water is safe to drink. Let me make that perfectly clear,” said Bill Sims, city director of public works and engineering, at a press conference Friday. “What we are asking people to do is to stop consuming. No laundry. If it’s yellow let it mellow. If it’s brown flush it down. No showers. No baths. As much as possible, constrain water use.”

Sims said the city’s potable water reservoirs are estimated at about 65 per cent of normal and the city is asking the public to not use water for laundry or other uses that aren’t absolutely necessary until problems at the plant are corrected. The “million-dollar question,” Sims said, is how long it will take to correct the malfunction.

“We’re working extremely hard to try and troubleshoot the issues. We’re looking at bringing in some outside help, as well, but we do not know. We have no estimated time as to when the magic switch is going to go,” he said.

The city said this is not the first time the plant has dealt with power failures, but it is the first time a power failure appears to have triggered multiple malfunctions throughout the plant’s control systems.

The problem lies with a fail-safe program built into the plant’s water filtration control system. The plant’s filters need to be flushed periodically to function properly, but there is a function within the flushing system that shuts down the cleaning system if it senses a condition that would damage the filters, which is preventing the plant’s purification process from restarting.

Sims said the system is not running out of water, but supplies must be preserved for firefighting purposes and other essential uses so residents and businesses should not use water until further notice.

Meanwhile the city is working to come up with a contingency plan in the event the plant can’t be brought back online before water supplies run low.

Arenas and pools are closed.

The city will provide updates to the public as they become available.

RELATED: More than 90,000 remain without power on Vancouver Island

RELATED: Tree nearly splits Parksville home in half during windstorm

RELATED: Winds whip up havoc across Nanaimo region


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