When you turn on your tap, you don’t expect to see pink water — or water of any colour, for that matter.
But residents of the small Alberta town of Onoway were left puzzled and a little bit alarmed to discover bright pink water running from their taps Monday night.
“My water is broken. Thanks Town of Onoway,” Trevor Winfield wrote on Facebook when posting a video of the fuchsia-coloured H2O.
Vicki Veldheyzen Van Zanten said her daughter was in the washroom Monday afternoon when all of a sudden she yelled, “mom, come in here?” She ran to the bathroom to find the water was unusually pink.
While she admits she doesn’t normally drink the tap water in Onoway because she doesn’t like the taste, Van Zanten said she will not use the water for anything until it is clear.
“I’m not going to drink this. I’m not going to cook with it,” she said. “I’m not going to risk it.”
“I’m just waiting until it runs clear for a couple of days and then when I know it’s clear, I’ll get out all the cleaners and clean up.”
Fellow Onoway resident Lisa Schulte wasn’t quite as concerned. When she noticed the pink water Wednesday morning, she immediately phoned the town office to see what was going on.
“They assured me that everything was very good. It was healthy, it was fine. It wasn’t going to turn me into Spider-Man, which maybe some days I would like to be,” she laughed. “I was OK with it.”
Schulte still made her morning coffee as usual, despite the pink-coloured water.
“I kind of took a little bit of a taste of it this morning and it didn’t seem any different, except that it was pink,” she said. “It tastes fine. It tastes really good.”
On Tuesday, the town said the strange colour was due to a chemical used during a routine line flushing and filter back washing.
Onoway Mayor Dale Krasnow said a valve didn’t close properly, allowing potassium permanganate to get into the water supply.
Potassium permanganate is a salt-based chemical that has a wide range of uses, including water treatment. It is used to remove iron, manganese and hydrogen sulphide (rotten egg smell) from well water. When dissolved in water, it produces an intensely pink or purple colour.
The mayor said office staff were not aware of the issue until 9 p.m. Monday, at which time Public Works staff were already flushing the lines and trying to stem the flow of the potassium permanganate.
Nothing was posted on the town’s website or Facebook page until 10 a.m. Tuesday, when the town said it hoped to have the lines completely flushed by the end of the day.
“The Town of Onoway sincerely apologizes for any alarm this may have caused. We assure you our water is safe and Public Works is doing everything they can to abate the situation as quickly as possible,” the town statement said.
The town said it is working on getting more residents signed up for its new telematic notification system.
Van Zanten admits the communication could have been a bit better from the town.
“They could have informed us sooner. As soon as they knew at 9 p.m., why weren’t they posting something at 9 p.m.?”
In a statement to Global News, Alberta Health Services said the water is safe to drink, although people with sensitive skin may want to use an alternate source of water for bathing due to a small risk of temporary skin irritation.
“The vast majority of individuals will not experience any impacts associated with normal consumption and no long-term health risks are associated with consuming this water,” AHS spokesperson Shannon Evans said Tuesday.
Alberta Environment and Parks staff have inspected the water treatment plant in response to the pink water. A spokesperson for the ministry said Onoway’s water currently meets environmental standards and staff are working to clear the system.
“Our inspection team will seek to determine the technical complication that produced this outcome. The town will be asked to submit a letter outlining the issue and the actions they will take to prevent reoccurrence,” Brent Wittmeier said in a statement.
“We will complete a follow-up inspection of this site in the coming weeks to ensure that any potential issues have been resolved.”
Residents are asked to complete the purge by flushing their water lines and hot water tanks.
Onoway is about 50 kilometres northwest of Edmonton in Lac Ste. Anne County. The town is home to just over 1,000 people, according to the 2016 Statistics Canada census data.
With files from Shallima Maharaj, Global News.