Brown water: it’s Winchester’s turn again

A bathtub filled with coloured water from the municipal system at a residence on Victoria Street in Winchester.

An issue that is unique to the two largest villages in North Dundas – Chesterville and Winchester – has been causing anger since time immemorial, and shows no signs of being resolved anytime soon. Coloured water or so-called “brown water” from the municipal water systems in the two towns causes problems both in terms of aesthetic quality, as well as practical usability. The brown water can stain laundry and dishes, and generally gives residents serious reservations about otherwise mundane tasks, such as giving their kids a bath. 

Last year, it was primarily Chesterville residents who were making complaints about the severity and frequency of brown water incidents. This helped get a potential solution in motion, which was discussed during the water and sewer draft budget presentation at the Council meeting on March 21. The solution is an already approved $5.3 million upgrade to the Chesterville water reservoir to help remove excessive manganese from the system. 

Now, it’s Winchester’s turn (as some would argue – “again”) to be on the receiving end of aesthetically repulsive water. The problem does not affect all of the water users on the municipal system. This is most likely due to the impact of differing flow rates in different areas of the system. Many Winchester residents were raising concerns last month about the quality of their water, with some saying that it has become worse than ever before. 

The draft budget presented to Council on March 21 included a 13% increase in the local water and sewer rates in 2024. Besides grants, the water and sewer system is funded solely through user fees. General tax dollars are not used to fund or upgrade the system, to ensure fairness to those who are not connected to water and sewer. Councillor Matthew Uhrig and Mayor Tony Fraser both pointed out the increasing costs associated with providing municipal water. Some residents are concerned that as costs go up, the quality of the water seems to be going down. 

While Chesterville has been consistently well known for its coloured water issues, Winchester’s problem has been more on the quantity side. A new source well is being added for the Winchester system, though with incidents of brown water on the rise, it appears that Winchester may soon need filtration upgrades similar to those proposed for Chesterville. Unpleasant, brown water is not considered to be of “adverse quality” for the purposes of drinking water safety. The Annual Drinking Water Report for North Dundas shows only 3 adverse quality incidents for the entire year. Two of them were false alarms of bacteria that were resolved with re-testing, and one was a precautionary boil water advisory from a loss of pressure due to a water main break.  

Erin Chefero is one of the Winchester residents who has been outspoken about Winchester’s water quality. “We absolutely do not get our money’s worth for our water,” she said. “At least twice a month, our water is unusable. We have had to switch to using a water cooler and bottled water at a cost of $50 per month. Even when the water is clean, we do not trust that it is safe for our young family to drink.” 

Erin pointed out that she and her husband have even had to take their children to her parents’ house for baths, meaning that they are paying for water they sometimes can’t use. “A resolution is long overdue,” she added. 

Water quality reports and the draft water and sewer budget can be found on the Township of North Dundas website. 


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