‘State of emergency’ declared in Little Current as plant fails

Unusual circumstances led to both water pumps failing

LITTLE CURRENT – A major malfunction with Little Current’s water treatment plant pumping mechanisms Friday night and into Saturday caused the mayor to declare a state of emergency once the plant’s reservoir of treated water was close to running dry. The declaration led to town restaurants having to shut down and residents to stock up on bottled water, which was supplied by the municipality.

On Saturday morning, the municipality issued a warning to Little Current residents and businesses that, due to two water pump failures, plant reserves were running dangerously low and to stop using water. 

A second backup pump had been installed after the initial two failures, but it too failed to meet the demand required of it. Northeast Town CAO Dave Williamson told The Expositor on Monday that the issue with the pumps was twofold: a slight crack in the steel pipe that feeds that vacuum pump caused the pump to be unable to prime itself and one of the filtration system’s filters had become slightly clogged. Mr. Williamson said that while this issue with the filter wouldn’t ordinarily cause a problem, the failing pump created one.

“It all sounds relatively easy in hindsight, but when you don’t know the source of the problem…” Mr. Williamson said.

“We declared an emergency to bring all the (community) partners to the table,” Mayor MacNevin told The Expositor. A community control group meeting was held at 1:30 pm on Saturday afternoon comprised of municipal staff and management with invitations also sent to Manitoulin Health Centre, the Centennial Manor, Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board and the Ontario Provincial Police, as well as the water treatment plant contractor, OCWA. A state of emergency also ensures provincial involvement.

The state of emergency for the Town of Northeastern Manitoulin and the Islands (NEMI) was lifted a few hours later with a full return of water pressure by Sunday morning.

Mr. Williamson said the reservoir was down to four percent when the emergency order went out. He credited the residents and businesses of Little Current for reacting quickly, stopping using water in the nick of time. Should that tank have completely emptied, and with the resulting negative water pressure that would have followed, a boil water advisory would automatically occur.

“The community really stepped up,” the CAO said. “We’re truly fortunate.”

The mayor said the municipality would be seeking a review from OCWA as to why, exactly, this breakdown occurred.

Little Current historian Sandy McGillivray told The Expositor that he could not recall a similar total failure of the town’s water pumping system since the town installed a municipal water system in 1948.

“OCWA has full responsibility for this water system and I’m convinced they did everything they could to rectify this problem,” Mr. Williamson said, who did say that the municipality would be having discussions with OCWA as to why they were not notified until 12 hours after the problem was initially discovered.

As Saturday was a rainy day, many resourceful residents quickly set out pails and other containers to catch rainwater from their homes’ downspouts, filling bathtubs and laundry sinks in order to have this supply to flush toilets and for other non-potable uses, should the need have arisen.