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Watson Lake faces boil water advisory

The town of Watson Lake is under a boil-water advisory. There have been no illnesses reported, said Dr. Brendan Hanley, the territory's chief medical officer of health.

The town of Watson Lake is under a boil-water advisory.

There have been no illnesses reported, said Dr. Brendan Hanley, the territory’s chief medical officer of health.

But the precaution was put in place after workers broke a water main on Liard Avenue while laying a new sewer line.

About eight homes were directly affected and their water was turned off almost instantly, said Pat Living with Health and Social Services.

There was a “tremendous amount” of water lost, but the chances of contamination are slim, said Hanley.

When the high-pressure water main broke, water gushed out, making it unlikely much of anything got into the pipe, he said.

As well, no sewer lines in the direct area were exposed, said Lynn Standing with Community Services. If there was any contamination, it would likely only be from the soil or dirt, she added.

Residents are advised to boil their water for at least two minutes before using it to brush their teeth, cook and do dishes. The territory is also adding extra chlorine into the water and will be sampling it continuously until it is sure there is no longer a concern, said Hanley.

Residents may notice the chlorine, which is now twice the normal level, but it is not much higher than swimming pool standards, he added.

The territory is in the process of replacing Watson Lake’s aging pipes, which are, in some cases, more than 30 years old. Seventy per cent of the town’s sewer system will either be replaced or repaired, said Standing.

By the time the $7.5-million project is complete, the town will also have 800 metres of new water mains, seven new fire hydrants, 3,000 metres of new sewer lines and more than 50 new sewer manholes.

In 2011, Watson Lake’s mayor called on the territory to help.

Residents were shocked in May of that year to see the water occasionally turn dark brown, thanks to iron and manganese flaking from the old pipes. One hotel had to be compensated after the water stained its white laundry.

The town also had to park one of its trucks over a manhole overflowing with sewage.

That problem has been resolved by putting the back-up lift station into use, said Standing.

As well, a more regular flushing regime has been put in place and the town is looking into water treatment for the manganese buildup, added Standing.

Despite being unsightly, there is no health concern with the brown water, said Living, adding that many towns, including Whitehorse, have to flush out the buildup every year.

In an unrelated situation, Burwash Landing has also been put under a boil-water advisory this week, after regular water sampling came back with traces of E. coli, said Hanley.

The western Yukon community depends on water delivery and a sample from one of the delivery trucks tested positive for the bacteria.

There is really no way to tell how badly contaminated the truck was, said Hanley, nor is he aware of whether water from that truck had been delivered to people’s homes yet.

The truck was immediately put out of work, emptied and cleaned, and will continue to be until tests confirm there is nothing to worry about, said Hanley.

As in Watson Lake, there has been no illness reported and none is expected, he added.

Hanley expects both communities to be in the clear by the end of the week, he said, adding that boiling water is not necessary when bathing, doing laundry or even washing hands.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at