Complaints about strange fuchsia-coloured water started pouring into the town office in Onoway, Alberta on Monday night. The following day the town published a statement:
On Monday March 6, 2017 in the afternoon our Public Works Department commenced their weekly backwash of filters at our Water Treatment Plant.
We are still assessing what exactly happened but it appears a valve may have stuck allowing the potassium permanganate to get into our sump reservoir and thereby into the Town’s water distribution system.
Alberta Environment is coming out this afternoon to review our system with our public works department to try and determine what exactly transpired and what needs to be corrected.
As soon as public works realized we had a problem they immediately commenced action to isolate this issue, which including draining our water reservoir. Once we realized this substance had gotten beyond our reservoir and into our distribution lines Pubic Works immediately commenced flushing of all our distribution lines throughout the Town. Unfortunately our distribution system is a loop system which makes it much more difficult to control and isolate the water flow.
Immediately and throughout this entire process our staff have been in contact with Alberta Environment, and today our discussions have included Alberta Health Services. We were never advised by Alberta Environment to issue a public advisory and all indications are that there was never a public health risk. Could the Town have done a better job of communicating what was going on yesterday to our community – absolutely, without a doubt. And we do apologize for that. This is a situation we can certainly learn from and develop a strategy for better response and communication should we ever face the same or similar situation in the future.
The Town is still flushing our distribution system but we are making positive progress. We ask all residents and businesses to leave your tapes running until your water is clear. The Town has, and will continue, to post information on our various media outlets. Again, the Town recognizes we had a communication breakdown both internally and externally, and we are working to ensure we rectify this. This incident is a perfect example of how our recently initiated public notification system can be utilized to get information out to our residents and businesses – and we encourage everyone who has not signed up to get signed up.
At this time I would like to recognize and thank those who have stopped in or called inquiring about the facts, and I would specifically like to thank those businesses who have dropped off lunch and treats for our staff.
Mayor, Town of Onoway
Monday March 6, 2017
An update was then released the next day:
Water Update – March 7, 2017 at 3:30 p.m.
Further to prior media release, please be advised that public works along with 2 representatives from Alberta Environment have completed their assessment of the potassium permanganate incident and preliminary indications point to a problem with the automations and/or valves at the Water Treatment Plant during the back washing of the filters. Further investigation will take place to determine the exact cause and repairs required.
The Town will continue to work with Alberta Environment until this is concluded. In the meantime, this equipment will be taken offline and no further backwashing with potassium permanganate will occur until the system is operating properly.
While on site, Alberta Environment representatives reviewed all operating reports/procedures and have determined that operator error was not the cause of this incident.
All main lines have been flushed and are clear, however there may be some residual in your service lines. Property owners may need to run their water for a few minutes to clear their service lines.
Potassium permanganate, also known as potassium salt, is a chemical disinfectant commonly used to remove iron and hydrogen sulphide (rotten egg smell) from well water and waste water.
Permanganate is a strong oxidizer similar to chlorine. It can cause irritation or burns when the undiluted salt makes direct contact with skin.