Brown tap water another hurdle for Lynn Lake residents under boil water advisories for decade

Residents of a northern Manitoba town that have had to boil their water for a decade are now dealing with a whole new set of problems — brown water coming out of their taps.

On Monday, people who live in Lynn Lake turned on their taps to see brown water flowing out. The next day, local schools and at least one restaurant closed temporarily because of the water.

“I’ve seen an awful lot of pictures of people who are posting from filling their tubs to pictures of their toilet bowls, and it’s just absolutely a dark brown colour. Looks like something that you wouldn’t want to even wash in,” said Audie Dulewich, a resident of the town and former mayor.

“It’s certainly pretty gross water.”

People working on the local water treatment plant stirred up sediment, causing the tap water to be three to four times dirtier than normal, said Darryl Watts, the acting chief administrative officer for the town of approximately 500 residents, located more than 800 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.

A glass of contaminated Lynn Lake tap water is seen on the right. (Submitted by Minnie Carberry)

The town is working to ensure everyone has access to clean water. 

Watts says there are a number of cases of water at the local arena that people can pick up, with more on the way from Thompson.

Neighbouring Marcel Colomb First Nation is also helping out.

“They’re bringing their water truck into town to allow people to fill their water jugs and anything else that they can fill up to take home,” Watts said.

Years of water woes

Dulewich says the town is plagued with water issues, but the cost to keep the taps on is rising in spite of a decades-long boil-water advisory.

“Part of the frustration with the residents of Lynn Lake is the fact that the water rates keep increasing to a point where I’m sure we’re paying one of the highest water rates in all of Canada at this point, and it’s water that people are scared to even bathe in,” he said.

The quarterly rate for water in the town just went up to $350, he said.

A cup of discoloured water from the taps in Lynn Lake is shown on the right in this 2019 file photo. The town has been under a boil water advisory for 10 years. (Submitted by Jenna Dulewich)

That’s on top of the cost some pay to regularly buy bottled water.

“At the rate that you’re paying for the water, it doesn’t seem quite fair that you have to buy water on top of what you’re already paying for just to have something that you can safely drink.” 

Watts says he expects the water will return to its previous, albeit imperfect, state by mid-week.

He hopes the new water treatment plant, which is expected to be up and running in the fall, will ensure locals have access to clean water year-round.