The Wheatley Water Treatment Plant will be down for a year or longer.
The dire news came from the Chatham-Kent Public Utilities Commission (CKPUC) on Wednesday afternoon.
General Manager Tim Sunderland said a new pump will take 12-18 months to arrive and there's significant damage to compressors and electrical wires which must be replaced along with several other critical plant components that were damaged in a fire last week.
A blaze broke out in the generator room on September 13, 2023 during regular maintenance. Sunderland told commission members the full extent of the damage to the equipment is still unknown because the site hasn't been completely cleaned up yet.
"It's not as simple as a generator, it's just about every component in that water plant that needs to be looked at. If it had plastic or epoxy in it, there's concern of damage," Sunderland said.
Sunderland said arrangements are being made to change systems and operations to ensure a reliable water supply for residents affected, adding all options are on the table, including a mobile water plant.
"We are investigating mobile water treatment plants. Where they are in North America is the first question, who has one or two available and can they be operated or used in Ontario through our current regulations. So, there's a lot of mechanical pieces moving here to try to get to a solution for mobile treatment," said Sunderland.
The boil water advisory remains in place because of low water pressure, but Sutherland said it won't last a year and a half.
Sunderland said CKPUC keeps working closely with Chatham-Kent Public Health, the Windsor-Essex County Health Unit, and the Ministry of Environment to test the water and lift the boil water advisory as soon as it's safe. He noted he wants to make sure once the boil water advisory is lifted, it's lifted long term.
Residents in Wheatley and Tilbury will continue to experience low water pressure for the time being, and customers served by the South Water Treatment Plant, which serves Blenheim, Merlin, Coatsworth, Shrewsbury, Rondeau, and Erieau, are asked to conserve water until further notice.
"We would like the people of Wheatley and Tilbury to know that although the Water Treatment Plant will be out of service for the foreseeable future, this does not necessarily mean that the Boil Water Advisory will be active for that amount of time as well," said Sunderland. "Once we stabilize the water supply, which we are working to do now, we will be able to test the water with accurate and repeatable results."
Under the boil water advisory, tap water can be consumed after bringing it to a rolling boil for one minute. The advisory will be in effect until public health receives additional information regarding the stability of the water system.
Updated information on the boil water advisory can be accessed by calling the Water Advisory Update Line at 519-436-3240.
Water tankers and neighbouring communities have helped provide water to the affected residents.
Sunderland is thanking the Town of Leamington and the Town of Lakeshore for providing water to the affected areas.